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In US Justice Department opens criminal probe into black Louisiana man's death

The Justice Department said on Wednesday it would conduct a civil rights investigation into Sterling's death.

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Alton Sterling play

Alton Sterling

(The wrap)

The U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the fatal police shooting of a black man in Louisiana's capital, the state's governor said on Thursday, as two deadly encounters between law enforcement and black men triggered protests in the United States.

The probe comes as community leaders in Baton Rouge urged authorities to conduct a full-scale criminal probe of two white police officers over the slaying of Alton Sterling, 37, on Tuesday.

"I want you to know that a criminal investigation is under way. It is being led by the U.S. Department of Justice," Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards told hundreds of people at Living Faith Cathedral in Baton Rouge on Thursday evening.

"We are going to come out of this tragedy stronger and more united than ever," he added.

Sterling was pinned to the ground and fatally shot in the chest outside a convenience store after the officers responded to what police said was a call about a black man reported to have made threats with a gun.

The Justice Department said on Wednesday it would conduct a civil rights investigation into Sterling's death.

The city's mayor and police chief welcomed the move, but community leaders said they worried the probe would be too limited and urged authorities to consider all possible federal and state criminal charges against officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake.

"We don't want this to be a narrow investigation," Edgar Cage, a spokesman for the community organization Together Baton Rouge, said at a church earlier on Thursday. "We plan to use this tragic event as a tool, a stimulant to change the culture."

President Barack Obama said in a statement he had full confidence in the Justice Department's ability to conduct a "thoughtful, thorough and fair inquiry" into Sterling's death.

Citing an unnamed law enforcement official, CNN reported on Thursday that a homeless man placed the 911 call after seeking money from Sterling, who was selling CDs outside the store.

The 300-pound (135-kg) Sterling showed the man his gun and said to leave him alone, the official told CNN. Reuters could not independently confirm that account with Baton Rouge police, who did not respond to a request for comment.

READ: Fresh protests in Louisiana after Police brutally killed black man

Sterling, a father of five, had several criminal convictions since the mid-1990s for battery, resisting arrest, burglary and other crimes. He was a registered sex offender after spending nearly four years in prison on a charge he had sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 20.

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