Meet Abdullah Muflahi: He Filmed Alton Sterling Shooting & Was Then Detained by Baton Rouge Police
For the past week, protests against police violence have spread across the country. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets. Hundreds have been arrested. The protests began in the wake of the fatal police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Today we look at a side of the Baton Rouge story that has received little attention: what has happened to the individuals who filmed and distributed the shocking videos of Alton Sterling’s death. The videos show a Baton Rouge police officer pinning Sterling to the ground outside a convenience store, then pointing a gun at his chest and opening fire. One of the videos was filmed by Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the Triple S convenience store where Sterling died. He recorded it on his cellphone. Muflahi has filed a lawsuit against the city of Baton Rouge, the Baton Rouge Police Department and four of its officers. The lawsuit alleges the police took his phone, locked him for hours in a police car and seized his security camera footage without a warrant. The lawsuit also contends Muflahi was prevented from making a phone call to his family or an attorney. He is seeking damages for false imprisonment and the illegal taking of his property, as well as for release of his store’s security camera footage.
We speak to Abdullah Muflahi and his attorney Joel Porter:
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: On Tuesday, President Obama spoke in Dallas at a memorial service for the five Dallas police officers killed by a sniper. The shooter, Micah Johnson, opened fire at the end of an anti-police brutality march, killing five officers and wounding at least seven more. Obama urged the nation to reject despair, saying the country is not as divided as it may seem.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I know that Americans are struggling right now with what we’ve witnessed over the past week, first the shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, the protests, then the targeting of police by the shooter here—an act not just of demented violence, but of racial hatred. All of it’s left us wounded and angry and hurt. It’s as if the deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: For the past week, protests against police violence have spread across the country. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets. Hundreds have been arrested. The protests began in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Today we look at a side of the Baton Rouge story that has received little attention: what has happened to the individuals who filmed and distributed the shocking videos of Alton Sterling’s death. The videos show a Baton Rouge police officer pinning Sterling to the ground outside a convenience store, then pointing a gun at his chest and opening fire. A warning to our television audience: This video is graphic.
ALTON STERLING: Please, come on! [bleep]
POLICE OFFICER: He’s got a gun! Gun! Hey bro, you [bleep] move, I swear to God. [gunshots] Get on the ground! [gunshots]
WITNESS: What was that for, man?
POLICE OFFICER: [inaudible] Shots fired. Shots fired. [bleep]
AMY GOODMAN: That video was filmed by Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the Triple S convenience store where Sterling died. He recorded it on his cellphone. Muflahi has since filed a lawsuit against the city of Baton Rouge, the Baton Rouge city police and four of its officers. The lawsuit alleges the police took his phone, locked him up for hours in a police car, seized his security camera footage in the store without a warrant. The lawsuit also contends Muflahi was prevented from making a phone call to his family or an attorney. He’s seeking damages for false imprisonment and the illegal taking of his property, as well as for release of his store’s security camera footage. Activists say this fits a pattern of police retaliation against people who dare to film police misconduct. In New York City, Ramsey Orta, who filmed the police killing of Eric Garner, is slated to go to jail for four years on unrelated charges—making him the only person at the scene of Eric Garner’s killing who will serve jail time. We speak to Eric Garner’s daughter Erica later in the show. But right now, joining us from Baton Rouge is Abdullah Muflahi, along with his lawyer, Joel Porter. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Abdullah Muflahi, explain what happened on that fateful day when Alton Sterling was shot dead by the police. Where were you? What did you see?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: Well—
AMY GOODMAN: It looks like we may have just lost the satellite connection to Baton Rouge, but we have it back. Abdullah, if you can explain what you saw?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: By the time I got out—I got out of the store, they were already slamming him on top of a car and were tasering him. That’s when another officer ran and tackled him onto an SUV, then both cops slammed him on the floor.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you have your cellphone out at this time?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: When they slammed him on the floor, that’s when I pulled it out and started recording.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And what happened subsequent to that, as you were recording?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: I’m sorry?
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: What happened after that, as you started recording?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: That’s when one of the officers screamed out "Gun!" and opened fire on him.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And did they move—at what point did they become aware that you were there, and move toward you?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: After the shooting. After they had killed him, one of the officers got up and grabbed me. And when backup had arrived, he grabbed me and pushed me towards another officer and told him to put me in the back of a car.
AMY GOODMAN: What was your reaction to what you were filming? I know it happened very quickly, but as you’re filming, seeing the officers on top of Alton Sterling and then shooting him?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: I was in shock. I didn’t know if it was real or if I was in a nightmare or—I didn’t know what was going on.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Now, he was an acquaintance of yours, wasn’t he, the victim here?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: Yes.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Could you tell us how you knew him?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: Well, when I first moved down to Baton Rouge, he was selling CDs in front of the store that I first started working at. That’s how me and him actually met.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you own the store now?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: This is a different store than from when I met him, and yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And so now he was selling CDs in front of the store, the Triple S, where the police killing took place?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened to you then? What did the officers say? What did you hear them say? And what happened to you after Alton Sterling was killed?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: Well, after the shooting, one of the officers that was there, I’m not sure what he said, but the other officer that was close to me had said, "Just F— him. Just let him lay there," talking about Mr. Sterling. That’s when then they grabbed me and put me in the back of a cop car.
AMY GOODMAN: You heard an officer say, "F— him. Just let him lay there," using a curse?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: Yeah, yes.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Now, at some point, while they had you in the car, they also went in to grab the store video, as well, from your store? Could you explain what happened there?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: Well, at first, they asked me if they could go and copy the surveillance. And I told them I would like to be present at the store if they were going to go in there. They told me that it wasn’t possible and that I couldn’t watch the footage, because I’m a witness. But they went inside my store anyways. And when they came back—I had knocked on the window and told one of the officers that was close by to tell them that I didn’t want them inside my store without me being present in there. And that’s when they came to me and told me that they were going to go get a search warrant and just take the surveillance camera.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they get that warrant?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: I was never presented with a warrant at all.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, where were you taken? How long were you held? They took your cellphone, but you got it back. And did you post that video online that we watched?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: We, me and my lawyer, ended up taking it to a TV channel, a news channel, and gave it to them.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And, Joel Porter, you’re his—Abdullah’s attorney. Could you summarize your complaint, your legal complaint, and how you feel the officers violated his rights here?
JOEL PORTER: Well, they violated his rights in many ways. First of all, Mr. Muflahi was only an innocent person, a person who witnessed a horrible killing. He was illegally detained for six hours, four hours in the back of a hot police car, was not permitted to go to the bathroom. When he asked to go to the bathroom, he was escorted to the side of the building by a police officer, where he was forced to use the bathroom in the public’s sight. He was not allowed to go back inside of his building. His business was commandeered for at least six hours. He was then taken down to police headquarters, where he was once again detained illegally for two hours behind closed doors. This is not the kind of activities of how a police officer should treat innocent people in society. Once again, he’s an innocent victim. And my client believed that those responsible, Baton Rouge city police, should be held responsible for illegally detaining him, for illegally commandeering and seizing his building and the security equipment out of his building. And he just wants them to be held accountable. He wants America to know how he was treated. And he wants somebody to be held responsible.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And, Mr. Porter, just to be clear, they didn’t merely copy the surveillance video, they confiscated it, right?
JOEL PORTER: They confiscated the entire security system.
AMY GOODMAN: The entire—the camera and the video footage?
JOEL PORTER: Without a warrant. They took the video footage and the equipment. What they did, they swooped down in an effort to control the evidence, in an effort to control the witness, in effort to control the narrative. They swooped down. They grabbed all of the witnesses. They grabbed my client, grabbed his cellphone and seized him. And that was, once again, in an effort to control the narrative of what happened. But they did not know that he had taped the killing. And had they known that, he never would have gotten his cellphone back. And we felt that it was important that America see the violence that black males face in this society.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the authorities say they handed it over to the Justice Department, which has taken over the investigation here. Joel Porter, what about that?
JOEL PORTER: It is my understanding that DOJ is involved. There has been conversations with the FBI. I know they are involved. So, yes, it has been turned over.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you, Abdullah Muflahi, as we show the video, take us through what you are filming here? You’ve got these two officers. You came out when he was—when Alton Sterling was on the ground. Is that right? And you then started—
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: No, I came out while—no, I’m sorry, I came out while he was being slammed on top of a hood of the car.
AMY GOODMAN: And why did they say they were doing this to him?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: I started recording—they didn’t say anything. I didn’t even know. He didn’t even know what was going on. He was confused the whole time. And the whole time, he was asking them, "What did I do wrong? What’s going on? I didn’t do nothing wrong."
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: But just to be clear, when you say that you came out and he was on the hood of the car, you’re saying they already tasered him before he went down to the ground in the video that we see?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: Yes. They tasered him. After they slammed him on top of the hood, they backed off—they backed up off of him and tasered him.
AMY GOODMAN: What was—
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: And that’s when the other cop then ran and tackled him.
AMY GOODMAN: Was Alton Sterling saying anything?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: He was telling them, "What did I do wrong?" He was pretty confused. He didn’t know what was going on, why they were there or what happened to even, you know, have them out there in the first place.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And the shooting that we see in the video, was that—were those the only shots that the police fired?
ABDULLAH MUFLAHI: Yes, six shots they had fired.