COLUMBIA — South Carolina state Rep. Justin Bamberg — who represented the family of Walter Scott, the unarmed black man shot and killed by a white North Charleston police officer — is now representing the family of another black man killed after an altercation with police, this time in Baton Rouge, La.
Bamberg, whose law firm is based in Orangeburg, along with Atlanta-based attorney L. Chris Stewart, addressed the media Thursday on behalf of Alton Sterling’s family in Louisiana’s capital city.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the video-recorded killing of Sterling, who police say had a gun as he wrestled with two white officers outside a convenience store.
“DOJ jumped in ASAP and I think it does send a very strong message, but I think a lot of it does go back to Walter (Scott) and everything we dealt with in Charleston,” Bamberg said about federal authorities who investigated shortly after the Scott shooting. “The Walter Scott case, again, is the prototype for how officer-involved incidents need to be handled.”
The Baton Rouge shooting, as well as two video recordings of the incident, have sparked outcry at a time when law enforcement officers nationwide are being carefully watched for their use of force.
“This reminds me a lot of Walter Scott and some of the other cases we’ve seen come up,” Bamberg, D-Bamberg, told The Post and Courier on Thursday. “You have a man whose life was ended too soon in an unjustified and uncalled-for matter. It re-sparks the discussion of the importance of bystanders, technology and social media.”
Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Sterling’s son Cameron Sterling, hired the two attorneys to represent them. Dale Glover of Baton Rouge is also part of the legal team.
Alton Sterling, 37, was killed as he was reportedly selling CDs outside the store. Police say he was armed and an eyewitness said he had a gun in his pocket. Cellphone video posted online set off angry protests in this city of about 229,000, where 54 percent of the population is black and more than 25 percent live in poverty. The Justice Department’s civil rights investigation will look into whether the officers willfully violated Sterling’s rights through the use of unreasonable or excessive force.
In April 2015, Scott’s family hired Bamberg and Stewart after Scott, 50, ran from a traffic stop in North Charleston. Officer Michael Slager fired a Taser at him, and a fight ensued. As the Taser fell to the ground, Scott started running again. Slager pulled his pistol and fired eight bullets, five of which hit Scott from behind. His lawyers have said Slager still saw Scott as a threat when he opened fire.
After the video surfaced publicly three days later, the officer was arrested on a murder charge.
Andy Savage, Slager’s attorney, has maintained that his client reacted to a threat and that authorities moved too quickly in arresting the officer as a result of public pressure. Slager’s murder trial in state court is set to begin Oct. 31. A trial on his federal civil rights charges has not been scheduled.
Scott’s family received a $6.5 million settlement from the city of North Charleston last December.
The Associated Press and Andrew Knapp contributed to this report.