BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Minutes after two cops killed Alton Sterling outside of a convenience store, police confiscated all surveillance video of the incident without a warrant and allegedly without permission.
An attorney for the owner of the Triple S Mart, Abdullah Muflahi, told The Daily Beast a hard drive containing the complete recording of the Sterling’s death at the hands of Baton Rouge Police Department Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake was unlawfully taken by police. Muflahi showed The Daily Beast the barren cabinet where the hard drive had been.
All that’s left of the storage unit is a sole barren wire.
That wire went out to surveillance cameras on the front of the building. One of the cameras would have had a direct line of sight to where Sterling was standing when he was tasered, tackled, shot, and killed by police.
Another camera outside may have captured the original dispute between Sterling and a homeless man who called 911 after saying Sterling “pulled a gun” on him. The call brought the officers to the store where they confronted Sterling, who matched the description given to 911.
Muflahi recorded the cellphone video of Sterling being shot six times. When other police responded to the shooting, they “immediately put [Muflahi] in the back of their car,” according to lawyer Joel Porter.
Muflahi said police asked him to give them the surveillance footage but he refused unless they got a warrant. An unidentified officer said he was going to obtain a warrant, according to Muflahi, but “I never received a warrant.”
That’s because a warrant was not issued, according to the Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office and the clerk of court for the 19th Judicial Court District. Police never even filed an application for a warrant, according the DA’s office and the court.
When The Daily Beast requested both the surveillance video and the supposed warrant from the Baton Rouge Police Department, a lawyer from the department first denied the request by saying they could not turn over any documents from a “criminal investigation.” When told that a warrant is a public court document and could not be withheld, the lawyer then outright refused to confirm or deny if a warrant for the surveillance video even existed.
After backtracking on the existence of the warrant, the attorney backtracked on the possession of the surveillance video, saying that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had the hard drive.
“My client has not been informed of that,” said Porter, the attorney for the store owner.
The FBI refused to confirm or deny the police department’s claim.
“This is part of an ongoing investigation and we are unable to comment at this time,” Craig Betbeze, an FBI spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
Even if the FBI does have the hard drive now, it could have only taken possession from police—again, without a warrant or permission—after the Justice Department opened an investigation on the afternoon following the shooting. The FBI was not at the store when Muflahi returned after approximately 90 minutes at police headquarters.
Whoever has the video now, Muflahi’s attorney wants it returned.
“I’m probably drafting a legal motion over the weekend,” Porter said. “We want it back, along with everything that’s on it. Unadulterated.”