Family of Man Killed by D.C. Police Files $50 Million Lawsuit

By Sameer Rao Dec 16, 2016

The family of Terrence Sterling, an unarmed Black man killed by Metropolitan Police Department Officer Brian Trainer on September 11, filed suit against the department and Washington D.C. yesterday (December 15). The $50 million suit accuses the department and involved officers of wrongful death and negligence.

"The killing of unarmed Black men by police officers must stop," Hassan Murphy, one of the family’s attorneys, said in a statement to Reuters. "Mr. Sterling’s death was senseless and tragic—he did not need to die that night." The Washington Post reports that Sterling’s family is also represented by Jason Downs and William Murphy Jr., who previously represented Freddie Gray‘s family.

Trainer fatally shot Sterling after he crashed his motorcycle into Trainer and his still-unnamed partner’s police cruiser at an intersection. Interim Chief of Police Peter Newsham said in a video statement at the time that police received a report of an erratic motorcyclist who later hit the cruiser while trying to flee officers.

Reuters quotes the lawsuit’s argument that Trainer shot Sterling from "the safety of a police vehicle despite the fact that Mr. Sterling was unarmed and posed no danger to Officer Trainer or any other person." Two witnesses told The Post in October that the officers blocked Trainer at the intersection—a move the complaint says violates department protocol—and did not command Sterling to stop. One of the witnesses from that report, Howard Dorsey Jr., told The Post yesterday that he testified before a U.S. Attorney’s Office grand jury that was assembled last month to determine if Trainer and his partner should face criminal charges.

Body camera footage released by the department in late September confirmed that at least one of the involved officers failed to activate the camera until after the shooting. The lawsuit argues that the department did not properly train officers to use their body cameras. The department declined to comment on the lawsuit to either Reuters or the Post.

Outrage and protests over Sterling’s death prompted the department to revise body camera policies and deployment. Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the purchase of 2,500 body cameras at a September 15 press conference with Newsham. She said at the same press conference that dispatchers will remind officers to turn on their cameras when they respond to calls; responding officers must then confirm body camera activation.