A federal judge has ordered officials not to publicly release an autopsy report on the death of Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old black man shot and killed during a struggle with two white police officers last month, a Louisiana coroner said Tuesday.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark told The Associated Press during a telephone interview that he also is prohibited from releasing a copy of the judge's order sealing his office's autopsy report. Clark said he signed the report on Monday.
Cellphone video of the deadly encounter circulated within hours of Sterling's shooting, which along with the shooting of a black man in Minnesota triggered nationwide protests.
Clark said this was the first time since he became the parish's coroner in 2012 that a court order has sealed one of his office's autopsy reports. He said he customarily consults law enforcement authorities before publicly releasing any autopsy reports for deaths under criminal investigation.
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Clark announced last month that the autopsy showed Sterling died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back, but he hasn't disclosed any other details of his office's findings.
The Justice Department is investigating Sterling's fatal shooting outside a Baton Rouge convenience store just after midnight on July 5.
A spokeswoman for Baton Rouge-based U.S. Attorney Walter Green's office said the agency couldn't comment on the judge's order due to the ongoing civil rights investigation. A Washington-based spokesman for the Justice Department's civil rights division wouldn't comment or say whether the judge sealed the report at the department's request.
Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor who served as the Justice Department's principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights from 2009 to 2011, said autopsy reports are commonly released during the course of criminal investigations. Without knowing more about the circumstances of the case, he said he could only speculate on a possible reason for sealing Sterling's autopsy report.
"It may just be a matter of privacy," Bagenstos said.
The two Baton Rouge police officers who scuffled with Sterling were responding to a caller's complaint that Sterling had threatened the caller with a gun outside the store, where Sterling was selling homemade music CDs, police said.
A police report says Sterling was jolted with a stun gun after he didn't comply with the officers' commands to place his hands on the hood of a car. The report, signed by a Baton Rouge police detective, also says the officers saw the butt of a gun in one of Sterling's pants pockets and saw him try to reach for the gun before he was shot.
The officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, have been placed on administrative leave — a standard department procedure.
Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said Sterling was armed but didn't specify the type of weapon. The convenience store's owner, Abdullah Muflahi, has said Sterling wasn't holding a gun during the shooting but that he saw officers remove one from his pocket afterward.
Police said they have dash-cam video, bodycam video and store surveillance footage of the shooting, but none of it has been released.