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Justice Department Continues Probe Into Police Shooting Of Alton Sterling


We're learning more about the white police officers who shot and killed a black man, Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, La., earlier this week. Sterling was selling CDs outside a convenience store when someone called 911 and said he threatened them with a gun. Cell phone video shows officers tackling him. Sterling was sprawled on the ground. The officers shot him.

NPR's Caitlin Dickerson is in Baton Rouge, and, Caitlin, what do we know about the officers?

CAITLIN DICKERSON, BYLINE: The offices are named Howie Lake and Blane Salamoni. They've been on the force for three and four years, respectively. And we learned a little bit more about them today because local TV reporters say they got a hold of their personnel files, and they actually posted screenshots of them online. So the files show that Officer Lake had at least two use of force complaints against him before this event and that Officer Salamoni had at least three.

Some of the complaints had more details than others about the injuries that were involved, but so far none we've seen resulted in anyone being killed. And it is also worth pointing out that it's not unusual for police officers to have use of force complaints against them, so we can't extrapolate a whole lot from the complaints alone.

SIEGEL: And from what you've been able to learn, how is the community of Baton Rouge taking this?

DICKERSON: It seems like people are still digesting here, and they're certainly looking for more information. People here are anxious to find out what the ongoing investigations will turn up. In the meantime, residents here attended several religious events today and there are more of those scheduled into this evening and the weekend. But even at those events, you could see there is actually a racial divide in this city, at least in some parts of town.

So today I spoke with a pastor named Colleen Bookter. She's 29-years-old, and she leads a primarily white Methodist Church on Louisiana State University's campus. We were at a prayer vigil that took place in this really pretty square in downtown Baton Rouge. The grass was freshly cut. We were sandwiched between the Old Capitol building and a courthouse and a library.

And Bookter said that she felt this particular event was important because some of her congregants didn't feel comfortable going into the neighborhood where a much larger vigil took place last night in a part of town they felt was less secure.

COLLEEN BOOKTER: I think we'd lie if we said that Baton Rouge isn't a community that's divided. There are racial problems and racial tensions in our community. And I think there were people that I talked to both African-American and white who said they didn't feel comfortable in that space.

DICKERSON: And, Robert, this just goes to show how fraught these relationships can be when people can't even come together to mourn.

SIEGEL: And generally how would you describe the role that faith leaders see for themselves in Baton Rouge?

DICKERSON: Well, I spoke to a few pastors today, and they really see their role as intermediaries between the authorities and the residents of Baton Rouge. They want to be in constant contact with both parties, and they see that as really being key to making sure, as one pastor told me, his city doesn't go up in flames as we've seen in other parts of the country.

So faith leaders here really want to be proactive and make sure that relationships between authorities and residents don't break down, so that people don't feel the need to resort to violence.

SIEGEL: Is this a relatively novel event for Baton Rouge or have there been other shootings by police recently there?

DICKERSON: Talking to people so far, it sounds like there have been little dust-ups in the past about police-involved shootings or police-involved episodes of violence, but nothing this big, nothing where people locally have reacted this dramatically and certainly where people nationally have reacted this dramatically.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Caitlin Dickerson in Baton Rouge, La. Caitlin, thanks.

DICKERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Caitlin Dickerson is an NPR News Investigative Reporter. She tackles long-term reporting projects that reveal hidden truths about the world, and contributes to breaking news coverage on NPR's flagship programs. Her work has been honored with some of the highest awards in broadcast journalism, including a George Foster Peabody Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award. In 2015, Dickerson was also a finalist for the Livingston Award.