Lawyer: Motorcyclist Fatally Shot by DC Officer Posed No Threat

The unarmed black motorcyclist shot and killed by a D.C. police officer this month posed no threat to the life of the officer, an attorney for the man's family said Thursday as he called for officials to release more information on the circumstances of the shooting.

Many unanswered questions remain about the death of Terrence Sterling, 31, lawyer Jason Downs said at a news conference.

Sterling, of Fort Washington, Maryland, did not collide with a police car with any great force. Police have said an officer shot Sterling on Sept. 11 after he intentionally rammed the passenger-side door of a police car while trying to flee a traffic stop.

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

The officer who shot Sterling, 27-year-old Brian 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. Police have not disclosed the officer's race. Downs said his understanding is that the officer is white.

"From witness accounts, Mr. Sterling wasn't doing anything to present a threat to this particular officer and in fact, this officer is violating a general order by trying to block Mr. Sterling in," Downs said. "It appears that Officer Trainer fired his weapon from the safety of his police vehicle when Mr. Sterling did not pose any threat to him whatsoever."

Downs spoke to reporters alongside Sterling's parents, sister and aunt, all of whom said they were not ready to speak publicly. Downs said they were still grieving and stunned by the body-camera footage they viewed Wednesday of Sterling bleeding on the sidewalk from a gunshot wound to the neck as an officer performed CPR.


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Sterling died of wounds to the neck and back, according to the city's chief medical examiner, who did not detail how many times Sterling was shot.

The family was allowed to see an additional 60 to 90 seconds of body-camera footage that was not made available to the public, Downs said. That footage shows a police union representative arriving to assist the officer who shot Sterling and advising him to turn his camera off, Downs said.

The hasty arrival of the union representative, within 6 minutes of when the officer fired, raises questions about whether police officers called the union before they called an ambulance for Sterling, he said.

"Who did these officers call first? Did they call an ambulance to protect an innocent civilian, or did they call a police union representative to help Officer Trainer get his story straight?" Downs asked.

The chairman of the D.C. Police Union declined to comment. Sources within the union told News4 that a union representative responded to the scene after she heard an officer had been involved in a shooting. When the officer saw that the scene was secure, she advised the officer.

According to a time line released by city officials, gunshots were heard just before 4:30 a.m. and two ambulances were dispatched at 4:30 a.m., arriving within minutes.

D.C. officials acknowledged on Thursday that they have additional footage. They said it is their policy to release body camera footage only up to the point when paramedics arrive. The same policy has been applied to two body-camera videos the District previously released.

The additional footage has been given to the U.S. Attorney, D.C. Attorney General and Office of Police Complaints, the office of Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

The Office of the D.C. City Administrator previously told News4: "As far as we are aware, there is no additional camera footage." 

There was a misunderstanding, the office said on Thursday. 

Downs also said it is likely that additional footage exists of the shooting, either from surveillance cameras in the area or from high-resolution satellite cameras that monitor the nation's capital, and he called on city officials to release any such footage as soon as possible.

Sterling had worked as a heating and air conditioning technician for 12 years, Downs said. He refused to release additional details about Sterling's personal life.

It is not clear what Sterling was doing in Washington in the early-morning hours of Sept. 11 when he was shot. Police said officers stopped Sterling after they received a report of a motorcyclist driving erratically, but Downs said it is not clear that Sterling was the same motorcyclist who prompted the initial report.

His death has led to protests from activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

"The family is hopeful that any protests moving forward remain peaceful," Downs said, "but peace is only possible if this investigation is completely transparent."

Officers must learn to use body cameras, Downs said. 

"We must require our officers to learn how to use a camera before allowing them to use a gun," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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