The black man shot dead by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was described by those who knew him as a fun-loving guy who scraped together a living selling music recorded on compact discs.
The father of five had been arrested several times in his 37 years of life, and a felony conviction landed him on a list of sex offenders.
Alton Sterling, 37, was shot at close range by two white police officers at about 12:30 a.m. CDT on Tuesday.
The shooting, captured on cell phone videos, aggravated the unrest that has coursed through the United States for two years over the use of excessive force by police, especially against black men.
Relatives and acquaintances of Sterling from his Baton Rouge neighborhood described him as a local fixture who had been peddling CDs, DVDs and games for years in front of the Triple S Food Mart, where the shooting took place. The money he made supported him and his children.
“He was a very nice guy, always smiling and laughing and joking,” said store owner Abdullah Muflahi, who said he considered Sterling a friend.
Sharida Sterling, a cousin who grew up with Sterling, said he was often harassed by police outside the store, attention that she and others said was unwarranted.
“I’d never seen him get out of hand with anyone,” said Elvina Scott, who lives nearby and said she bought a CD from Sterling a few minutes before he was shot.
Baton Rouge police officials said officers had responded to a call that a black man was making threats with a gun. They said Sterling was armed when they arrived.
Shopkeeper Muflahi said Sterling had recently gotten a gun to protect himself from possible robberies, but he did not see a weapon in friend’s hand during the encounter with police.
According to the Louisiana Department of Corrections, Sterling was convicted in 2000 for a crime against a minor that led him to spend about four years in prison and be registered as a sex offender.
A court document reviewed by Reuters showed that he was accused of having sex with a 14-year-old girl and impregnating her when he was 20.
Sterling was arrested several times after his release in 2004. His most recent conviction was in 2011 for illegally carrying a weapon, the Corrections Department said.
In November 2015, on his Facebook page where he smiled from many of his photos, Sterling posted a blurry picture of himself in what appears to be handcuffs with the caption, “To all facebook friends and family Im gone to do my time.”
Louisiana arrest records showed that he was taken into custody at about the time of the posting, but they did not specify the reason. An arrest warrant had been issued in August 2015 after Sterling was accused by prosecutors of violating the terms of his sex offender registry program.
Those who knew Sterling, a 5-foot-11-inch, 300-pound man referred to as “Big Alton” in notes left at a makeshift memorial outside the convenience store, said he did not deserve to die from what many saw as more heavy-handed treatment of racial minorities by police.
“He was a good man,” said Jamese Perry, who held a sign outside the store on Wednesday to let people know about a vigil for Sterling, who had dated her cousin.
“Never bothered anyone,” she added. “Gentle.”
(Reporting by Bryn Stole and Kathy Finn in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; and Angela Moon in New York; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Toni Reinhold)