BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A judge in Louisiana has rejected a change-of-venue request in a civil lawsuit over the death of Alton Sterling, a Black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2016.
Judge William Morvant’s decision on Monday means a trial that was scheduled for March 1 will remain in East Baton Rouge Parish, The Advocate reported.
Parish Attorney Andy Dotson filed a motion seeking the change after the governing council in Baton Rouge rejected a proposed $5 million settlement for the 2017 wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Sterling’s five children, marking the third time the council has failed to pass a settlement.
Dotson had asked for the trail to be moved to a parish with a “similar ethnic mix for a jury pool," while lawyers for the city of Baton Rouge have argued the local jury pool has been influenced by media coverage about protests on police brutality, a claim that received pushback from Morvant.
“The test isn’t going to be: ‘Have you heard anything about this’?” he said. “I think if we go anywhere within the four corners of this state that’s going to be pretty hard to do.”
In the motion, Dotson also accused attorneys for the plaintiffs of leaking information and asked the judge to hold them in contempt of court for violating a “gag order” about the case. One of those attorneys, Chris Stewart, called the accusation “borderline defamation.”
The lawsuit names the city, its police department and former police chief and two officers. It alleges the shooting fit a pattern of racist behavior and excessive force by the Baton Rouge Police Department and says poor training and inadequate police procedures led to Sterling’s death.
Former Baton Rouge police officer Blane Salamoni shot Sterling six times outside a convenience store on July 5, 2016. Sterling, 37, had been selling homemade CDs. Officer Howie Lake II, who is also white, helped wrestle Sterling to the ground, but Lake didn’t fire his gun. Footage of the incident was spread on social media, leading to widespread protests.
Internal investigators for the police department concluded Salamoni had used excessive force. He was fired in March 2018, but an August 2019 settlement allowed him to withdraw his termination and resign retroactively instead. Authorities did not file criminal charges after an investigation.
Morvant said he would consider another request to move the trail if they're unable to find jurors who haven't formed an opinion about Sterling's death.