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Witnesses Cast Doubt on Account of DC Officer Who Killed Unarmed Motorcyclist Terrence Sterling

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

Officer Brian Trainer appeared before a police trial board for a second day on Thursday, 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. 

Multiple witnesses cast doubt on Trainer's account of what happened in the final moments of Sterling's life. 

An assistant police chief testified on Thursday that he found Trainer's story hard to believe. Even if he were to accept Trainer's version of events, Trainer still violated police regulations by firing at a moving vehicle, he said. 

Trainer has said he shot Sterling because Sterling intentionally rammed his police car, injuring him. He feared for his life, he said. 

For the defense, an expert in police shootings testified that Trainer had every reason to fear for his life and was well within his rights to use his gun.

Trainer himself could testify Friday. 

On Wednesday, 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.

Outside the hearing Wednesday, 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.

The DC Police Union, which is paying for Trainer's legal team, is concerned about whether he's 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 Thursday 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. 


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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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