Baton Rouge council rejects changes to Sterling settlement


BATON ROUGE, La. — Lawyers representing Alton Sterling’s five children have unsuccessfully argued for a quicker payout of a proposed $4.5 million settlement of their wrongful death lawsuit against the city-parish.

The Metro Council rejected the attempt Wednesday and now the family’s attorneys will either have to accept the five-year payment plan or go to trial, The Advocate reported.

Sterling was fatally shot by Baton Rouge police responding to a complaint of a man with a gun outside a convenience store in 2016. His death inflamed racial tensions in Louisiana’s capital, cast a national spotlight on the history of strained relations between police and Black residents of Baton Rouge, and sparked widespread protests.

The council’s action came after much discussion and a series of votes over whether they would agree to the quicker payment schedule or defer the item until the Louisiana attorney general’s office completes its investigation into accusations the council violated the state’s open meetings laws when it approved the original settlement last month.

“If we find out that we violated public meetings law, that vote will be null and void,” Councilwoman Jen Racca said.

Racca asked the council to put off its decision on the counteroffer by two weeks. But that motion failed.

Councilmen Cleve Dunn and LaMont Cole later motioned to approve the counteroffer after Parish Attorney Andy Dotson assured them that receiving counteroffers isn’t out of the ordinary in legal negotiations. That motion also failed.

The Metro Council originally agreed to a $4.5 million settlement offer that would have paid $1 million up front followed by annual $875,000 payments over the next four years. The attorneys for Sterling’s children countered by asking for $2 million upfront, with the remaining $2.5 million doled out over a two-year period.

The original approved settlement will be allocated from the city-parish’s Insurance Reserve Fund, with the remaining payments pulled from the annual operating budget. The revised offer never specified where the funds would come from.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has advocated for settling the lawsuit out of court, saying it would help the community “move forward.”

The high-profile lawsuit was originally scheduled to go to trial on March 1 but was pushed back to June 21 after the Louisiana Supreme Court extended a moratorium on jury trials because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed in 2017, seeks punitive damages against the city-parish for allegedly violating Sterling’s civil rights. It also claims that the city-parish was negligent in its hiring, training and supervision of Blane Salamoni, the officer who fired the six shots that killed Sterling.

Police Chief Murphy Paul, who was not leading the department at the time of the shooting, said later that Salamoni should never have been hired.

Federal and state prosecutors declined to press charges against the officers.

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