BATON ROUGE, La., May 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department will not charge two white police officers who fatally shot a black man at close range in Louisiana last year, sparking nationwide protests, the New York Times and Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
Department of Justice officials were not immediately available for comment. The decision is set to focus attention on new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his approach to civil rights after a series of deadly encounters across the nation in recent years have stoked debate over policing and minorities.
Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was killed after being confronted by two Baton Rouge officers on July 5, 2016, outside a convenience store where he sold CDs. The incident was caught on video.
It was unclear how and when the department would announce its findings, the Washington Post reported, citing four people familiar with the matter.
Lawyers for the Sterling family said they had not been informed of a decision. Lawyer Chris Stewart said in a phone interview he was traveling to Baton Rouge to be with the family and had been promised an in-person meeting with Justice Department lawyers before any official announcement.
There were plans for a vigil on Tuesday night at the Triple S Food Mart, the convenience store where Sterling was killed, activists said. The schedule was put together before the newspapers reported a decision had been made on charges.
The executive director of the national racial justice organization, Color of Change, slammed the Justice Department on Tuesday over the reported no charges.
%shareLinks-quote="There is no way to misinterpret the message that Jeff Sessions sent today: Black lives do not matter." type="quote" author="Rashad Robinson" authordesc="" isquoteoftheday="false"%
Outrage over the shooting last summer was stoked by cellphone video footage, captured by bystanders. Protests escalated a day after the Louisiana shooting when a Minnesota police officer fatally shot another black man at a traffic stop, and his girlfriend streamed video on social media.
Tensions escalated as demonstrations were organized nationally. At a protest on July 7, 2016 in Dallas, Texas, five law enforcement officers were fatally shot by a black, former U.S. serviceman.
More violence soon followed in Sterling's hometown in Baton Rouge, where law enforcement officers in riot gear arrested protestors decrying what they said was the unjust treatment of minorities by police.
Three Baton Rouge police officers died on July 17 in what officials called a calculated attack by a black former Marine, killed in an exchange of gunfire with police.
(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)