BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The 15-year-old son of a black man killed by Baton Rouge police spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, calling his father a good man and urging protesters not to resort to violence.
Cameron Sterling’s father, 37-year-old Alton Sterling, was shot to death July 5 as two white officers pinned him to the pavement outside a convenience store. The killing was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely on the internet.
“I feel that people in general, no matter what their race is, should come together as one united family,” Cameron Sterling told reporters outside the store where his father died. The teen remained composed as he spoke, a contrast from a week ago when he broke down in sobs and had to be led away as his mother talked in front of television cameras about his father’s death.
The son’s comments came a day after the arrests of three people who are accused of stealing at least eight handguns from a pawn shop in what authorities said was a credible threat to harm police officers in the Baton Rouge area. The arrests come amid heightened tensions in the city following Sterling’s death, the deadly police shooting in Minnesota and the killings of five police officers in Dallas last week.
Authorities discovered the alleged plot while responding to a weekend burglary at the pawn shop, Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie said Tuesday.
The chief said the first suspect arrested told police that “the reason the burglary was being done was to harm police officers.” He said the suspect didn’t give any details about when or where a possible plot would be carried out. Police were looking for a possible fourth suspect who remained at large Tuesday.
All of the suspects are from Baton Rouge and all are black. They face charges including burglary, simple burglary, and theft of a firearm; they do not face any charges related to the plot.
Six of the eight handguns were recovered, authorities said.
“We have been questioned repeatedly over the last several days about our show of force and why we have the tactics that we have. Well, this is the reason, because we had credible threats against the lives of law enforcement in this city,” Dabadie said.
Police said surveillance video showed the suspects using a ladder to climb the roof of the building to get in early Saturday.
Authorities said they arrested Antonio Thomas, 17, at the scene with a handgun and a BB gun. Malik Bridgewater, 20, was apprehended Sunday and a 13-year-old boy was apprehended Monday on a street. Police called on a fourth suspect to turn himself in.
Another man was arrested for allegedly purchasing two of the stolen guns, but he hasn’t been linked to the alleged plot, a police spokesman said.
It wasn’t immediately known if those arrested had attorneys.
In the first few days after Sterling’s death, police took a reserved approach to enforcement, keeping a low profile as hundreds gathered outside the convenience store where Sterling died.
But tensions escalated during weekend protests that moved away from the store and into other parts of the city, marked by a show of force by law enforcement that included police wielding batons, carrying long guns and wearing shields. Over a three-day period, police arrested about 200 protesters and came under criticism for the tactics used to deal with the demonstrations.
Cameron Sterling urged protesters to remain peaceful.
“Yes, you can protest, but I want everyone to protest the right way,” he said. “Protest in peace, not guns, not drugs, not alcohol, not violence.”
Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Cameron and his mother, Quinyetta McMillon, said the family is pleased that the Justice Department is investigating but also hopes state Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office “one day” will get involved.
In a statement Monday, Landry said he won’t have access to details of the federal investigation until it’s completed and a decision has been made on potential federal charges.
Associated Press writer Cain Burdeau contributed to this report.