The convenience store owner in Baton Rouge who witnessed and filmed the killing of Alton Sterling at the hands of police last week has sued the police department and five officers alleging they acted improperly and violated his rights.
Meanwhile, a Georgia man originally from Baton Rouge, who was the first to post the video and made it viral, was arrested 24 hours later because he “fit the description of someone wanted for battery,” but was then told he was being arrested for unpaid traffic tickets and led out of his job in handcuffs and leg shackles.
Abdullah Muflahi, who owns the Triple S Food Mart where Sterling was killed, accuses the Baton Rouge officers ofstealing surveillance video and equipment from his store without a warrant,confiscating his cellphone without a warrant,locking him in a hot police car for four hours and not allowing him to use the bathroom. When police finally let him use the bathroom, he was not allowed to go indoors.
Muflahi’s cellphone video shows not only the shooting but also one of the two officers taking a gun from Sterling’s right pocket despite earlier reports thatSterlinghad pulled the gun on the officers. The police department also reported that all of the officers’ body cameras had fallen off and become inoperative, making Muflahi’s video a key piece of evidence.
“I felt like a criminal at the time, and there’s one of the detectives that I knocked on the window and told him it was really hot and I asked if I could sit outside by the car. And he just got really angry and started saying ‘you need to chill the f–k out until we get this because we’re handling something right now,'” Muflahi told the New York Daily News.
“It wasn’t right and I shouldn’t have been treated like I was the one who shot the guy. They didn’t handcuff me or read me any rights. They just put me in the back of a car. The seat was really hot and it felt like I was sitting on hot coals.”
In his lawsuit, Muflahi claims, “The officers would not allow [him] to use the restroom inside of his business establishment and he was escorted to the side of his building and forced to relieve himself right there within arm distance of a BPRD officer and in full view of the public.”
Muflahi said he was then taken to police headquarters for another two hours and not allowed to call his parents or lawyer. He is seeking damages for false arrest, false imprisonment, the illegal taking and seizing of his security system and illegally commandeering his business. Officers Blane Salamoni, Howie Lake, Robert Cook and Timothy Ballard, as well as Police Chief Carl Dabadi and the city of Baton Rouge are all named in the suit.
According toThe Daily Beast, Baton Rouge police revealed a warrant was obtainedbut the facts show the warrant was sought after the fact.
“Not only did Sterling lose his life but my client lost his liberty,” Joel Porter, Muflahi’s attorney, told the Daily News. “They act like this is a police state, like it’s North Korea, like they can do this without impunity. This was done in order to intimidate my client.
They did not want him to tell the truth.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is leading a criminal investigation, and a federal civil rights investigation will be conducted.
Meanwhile, Chris LeDay, the Georgia man who was the first to post the video, has accused police of attempting to intimidate him and trying to get him fired for his involvement in propagating the incident.
LeDay did not film the shooting, but heshared it with his thousands of followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, as well as tagged news outlets who, in turn, shared it widely.
“I wanted everybody to see this video,” LeDay told the blogPhotography is Not a Crime.”I wanted it to go viral. The police were already saying their body cams fell off and I wanted to show there was video of the shooting.”
In his post along with the video, LeDay wrote:
“Last night in Baton Rouge, La another black man killed in cold blood by the cops. Allegedly their body cameras just so happened to ‘fall off.’ So we’re going to sit this right here and repost it a zillion times to try to have at least a small minute chance of getting justice for this deceased man Alton Sterling and the Sterling family! I’m sick of it!!!!”
LeDay said that when he arrived at his job at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, the following day, he was not allowed to walk through the security checkpoint he used daily. Instead, he said he was surrounded by at least 10 military police officers with guns and M-16s telling him only that he resembled a suspect.
He immediately shared this on Facebook: “I just made it to my job on base and I’m being detained. They said I fit the description of someone and won’t tell me anything else. If anything happens I did not resist! Please be aware!”
He said police eventually told him he fit the description of someone wanted for assault and battery. When a localofficer arrived to transport him to jail, LeDay said the warrant did not mention anything about an assault. He was informed the arrest was over unpaid traffic tickets.
LeDay was still removed from the base in handcuffs and leg shackles in what LeDay feels was done in an attempt to get him fired from his job. “It was embarrassing,” he said. “This happening in 2016.”
LeDay spent the night in jail and was released after paying $1,231 in fines. He admitted not having paid the fines saying he could not afford them.
He later shared on social media: “They totally overlook the fact I was arrested for ‘fitting a description’ and ‘you have an assault and battery charge in Dunwoody, Ga’ which by the way I’ve NEVER COMMITTED OR EVEN HEARD OF…..and go straight to ‘well you shoulda paid those traffic tickets’ really!!! Lmao really Lol wow!!!! Yeah traffic tickets will get you 25 to Life I guess.”
The intimidation of witnesses who captured police killings on video is not new. Ramsey Orta, who filmed an NYPD officer choke Eric Garner to death for selling loose cigarettes, complained of being repeatedly harassed and arrested by police since the 2014 incident. Last week, Orta said he was “tired of fighting” with police and agreed to a plea deal on weapons and drugs charges. He will spend four years in prison.