The convenience store owner who witnessed the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling at the hands of police is now suing the city of Baton Rouge and its police officers.
The lawsuit filed Monday by Triple S Mart proprietor Abdullah Muflahi accuses police of illegally confiscating surveillance video from his store, taking his cell phone, and detaining him in the back of a police car for several hours.
After multiple shots were fired into the chest and back of 37-year-old Sterling, Muflahi asserts that Officer Blane Salamoni instructed responding officers Lt. Robert Cook and Officer Timothy Ballard to seize the “entire store security system” and detain the rattled convenience store owner.
“I told them I would like to be in the store [when they took it],” Muflahi explained to The Daily Beast. He also demanded that officers obtain a search warrant before seizing anything on his property.
According to the news site, officers never filed an application for a search warrant nor did they ask Muflahi to sign a “Voluntary Consent to Search Form” with the Baton Rouge Police Department.
In a 42-second cellphone video, the convenience store proprietor managed to capture the harrowing moments before and after Sterling, an African-American father of five, was gunned down by police as he sold CDs in the parking lot of the establishment. Police confiscated Muflahi’s cellphone footage as well, and later locked him in the back of a police car, the lawsuit alleges.
“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,” Muflahi told the New York Daily News. “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.’ ”
“It wasn’t right and I shouldn’t have been treated like I was the one who shot the guy,” the store owner continued. “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.”
Detained in the police car for nearly four hours, Muflahi’s lawsuits claim the only time he was let out of the vehicle was to use the bathroom.
“The officers would not allow Mr. Muflahi 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,” the suit states.
The convenience store owner was reportedly kept at police headquarters for an additional two hours where he was barred from making a phone call to his family or legal representation.
According to The Daily Beast, Muflahi is suing Officers Salamoni, Lake, Cook, and Ballard as well as the City of Baton Rouge and Police Chief Carl Dabadi. Attorney Joel Porter told the news site that the store owner is seeking damages for “false arrest, false imprisonment, the illegal taking and seizing of his security system, and illegally commandeering his business.”
Shortly after Muflahi filed his suit, it was revealed that authorities had filed the search warrant and the affidavit with a court clerk on Monday morning — six days after Sterling was gunned down, The Daily Beast reports. Muflahi’s lawyer is now working to determine whether police waited hours to obtain a warrant and seize the store’s video hard drive or if they confiscated the hard drive first and applied for a warrant after the fact in order to make the seizure look legal.
“I think the public has a right to know under what authority the tapes were seized,” Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond told The Daily Beast.
Sterling’s family wants surveillance video of the deadly shooting to be released as well.