The Metro Council next month will have to again take up a proposed $5 million settlement in the civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Alton Sterling’s five children because a single public comment on the measure, submitted via email, was not read into the public record.
Following a contentious and lengthy discussion at its virtual meeting Sept. 9, a divided council rejected the settlement for the Sterling children, whose lawsuit argues that their father’s 2016 killing by two Baton Rouge police officers exemplified long-standing issues of racism within the BRPD.
The two officers were not prosecuted at the state or federal levels.
Because the meeting was held remotely due to the pandemic, public comments about the proposed settlement were submitted to the Metro Council administrator who, according to a recently enacted state law, is required to read all public comments aloud into the public record.
But one email on the Sterling settlement was inadvertently omitted because it was misdirected to the council administrator’s spam folder, council administrator Ashley Beck says.
“Our spam filter inadvertently blocked it,” Beck says. “Once we discovered that, I talked to the parish attorney, who said, based on that, the item needed to be reconsidered so that all comments could be read into the record.”
That means the council will once again have to sit through what was an ugly and at times painful public comment period, marked by some emailed comments that made disparaging personal remarks about Sterling’s children.
Early on in the hearing, Council member Donna Collins Lewis asked to dispense with reading offensive comments, noting that the public would be barred from using such language during an in-person hearing in council chambers.
Council Chairman Scott Wilson agreed that the comments were offensive and wouldn’t be allowed in person, but said the law requires all emailed testimony to be read into the record at a virtual meeting, an interpretation confirmed by Parish Attorney Andy Dotson.
“I get it that these comments are offensive,” Wilson said at the meeting. “But I’m not about to sit here and omit a comment … otherwise we’ll have to sit through this whole thing again.”
Ironically, that’s what happened. The council will again have to hear the comments and potentially more, as any new comments submitted prior to the meeting will also have to be read aloud.
Whether the outcome will be any different the second time remains to be seen. Seven votes were required to approve the settlement, but the measure garnered support from only six council members: Chauna Banks, Donna Collins Lewis, Lamont Cole, Erika Greene, Chandler Loupe and Tara Wicker.
Five others voted against the measure: Denise Amoroso, Dwight Hudson, Matt Watson, Trae Welch and Scott Wilson.
Council member Jennifer Racca abstained from the vote.
The measure will be introduced at the council’s Sept 23 meeting and taken up for discussion Oct. 7.