United States

DC Officer Who Killed Unarmed Motorcyclist Terrence Sterling Fights for His Job

People holding a sign reading "Justice for Terrence Sterling" blocked traffic in downtown D.C. after the hearing

What to Know

  • Officer Brian Trainer is fighting to keep his job after he shot and killed unarmed motorcyclist Terrence Sterling in 2016.
  • Protesters blocked rush-hour traffic in downtown D.C. Wednesday evening as Trainer's hearing continued.

The D.C. police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man on a motorcycle in 2016 is now fighting to keep his job.

Officer Brian Trainer appeared before a police trial board on Wednesday in connection to the shooting death of 31-year-old Terrence Sterling. Trainer, who is white, shot Sterling, who is black, after Sterling was reported to be riding his motorcycle recklessly on Sept. 11, 2016. 

Witnesses disputed what Trainer and a second officer said about the shooting. 

Howard Dorsey was driving home from work when Sterling pulled in front of him on his motorcycle. A D.C. police car pulled up and, within moments, Sterling had been shot twice.

Trainer said he shot Sterling because Sterling had intentionally rammed his police car, injuring him.

Dorsey testified that's not what happened.

"It wasn't a justified shooting," he told News4. 

A detective who investigated the shooting pointed out inconsistencies in Trainer's report of what happened. Trainer said his leg was injured after Sterling rammed the door of his police car. But the detective said the injury was more consistent with Trainer being on his knee as he administered first aid to Sterling than with being trapped in the door.

Sterling's girlfriend sat in the front row during the hearing, which lasted more than 10 hours. Graphic footage was shown. 

"It was extremely hard," she said. "It feels like that's not the way you want to remember someone you care about." 

Outside the hearing, demonstrators held signs and chanted "Fire Brian Trainer." Then, they marched, blocking traffic and holding a sign that said "Justice for Terrence Sterling."  

A police internal review board previously found Trainer was unjustified in shooting Sterling, and the police chief called on him to resign. Earlier this year, the city reached a $3.5 million settlement with Sterling's family.

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The DC Police Union is concerned about whether Trainer is getting a fair hearing.

"The DC Police Union continues to support Officer Brian Trainer and his right to due process. Now that the Trial Board has begun, we have serious concerns about his ability to receive a fair hearing," union chairman Stephen Bigelow Jr. said in a statement. "Numerous city officials have called for his resignation before the department completed its administrative investigation. Our hope is that this case is decided objectively on the merits of the evidence, not on outside political pressure."

Police initially said Sterling, of Fort Washington, Maryland, intentionally rammed the passenger-side door of a police car while trying to flee a traffic stop.

Witnesses disputed the police department's account of the incident and said the crash was unavoidable.

Trainer, a four-year veteran of the department, was wearing a body camera, but he did not turn it on until after the shooting, police said. 

According to a review of the incident by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Metropolitan Police Department, Trainer and his partner, the driver, were stopped at a red light on U Street at 15th Street in Northwest D.C. about 4:20 a.m. on Sept. 11. Sterling pulled in front of their cruiser and briefly stopped before speeding off through the red light. The officers turned on their emergency lights and siren and pursued Sterling. 

The officers lost sight of Sterling at times, but other officers and civilians saw him riding at speeds estimated at 100 mph, running red lights and nearly hitting another police cruiser, according to the U.S. attorney. 

The pursuit continued for several minutes and covered about 25 blocks, until Sterling stopped at Third and M streets NW and the officers pulled into the intersection to partially block Sterling's path, according to the U.S. attorney.

Trainer drew his weapon and opened his door. Evidence shows Sterling accelerated toward the passenger side, hitting the door as the officer was getting out, the U.S. attorney said. 

Trainer reacted by firing two rounds through the front window, according to the U.S. attorney.

Sterling died of wounds to the neck and back, according to the city's chief medical examiner. Toxicology results found Sterling’s blood alcohol content was 0.16 -- twice the legal limit.

Trainer did not face criminal charges in the case. He remains on paid administrative leave.

His case will be evaluated by a three-person trial board composed of a police commander and two captains.

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