No Charges for D.C. Cop Who Killed Terrence Sterling

By Kenrya Rankin Aug 10, 2017

On September 11, 2016, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Officer Brian Trainer shot and killed Terrence Sterling, 31. Yesterday (August 9), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced that it will not bring federal criminal civil rights or District of Columbia charges against Trainer.

Per the announcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and MPD reviewed officer and witness accounts of the shooting, photographs, physical evidence, radio communications, videos from the local department of transportation, body cameras and cell phones, and more, and concluded that there was not enough evidence to support charges. From that statement:

Following this review, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer violated Mr. Sterling’s civil rights by willfully using more force than was reasonably necessary, had the necessary criminal intent when he shot Mr. Sterling or was not acting in self-defense.

As Colorlines previously reported:

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.

The Washington Post, citing a 2016 study on District of Columbia police shootings, reports that no D.C. police officer has ever been indicted for a fatal on-duty shooting.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser issued a statement yesterday saying that while the criminal investigation is done, this case is not over. MPD is now beginning its disciplinary review of Trainer’s actions, and he will no longer have a job with MPD:

The District has one of the nation’s largest body-worn camera programs with expansive rules on public access to footage. As I said at the time and I say again today: it is unacceptable that in this incident, the officer failed to activate his body-worn camera in violation of MPD policies. For that reason, I ordered MPD to change its policy and require officers to confirm with dispatchers that they activated their body-worn cameras when responding to incidents.

The relationship between our officers and the communities they serve is built on trust. That trust exists when we hold everyone accountable. Without accountability in this case, we break trust with our community—rendering the District and MPD less safe and less strong. I do not believe there can be real accountability if the officer remains on the force. As the department commences its disciplinary review, MPD has asked for the officer’s resignation.

The family’s attorney, Jason Downs, spoke with The Washington Post after the family met with prosecutors about the decision not to bring charges. “That is disappointing and frustrating. It frustrates the purpose of our system,” Downs said. “After sitting through so much evidence, grand jurors should have been given the right to vote this up or down. The prosecutor’s office took that decision away from them.”

Meanwhile, the family has a $50 million lawsuit pending against MPD and Washington, D.C. for what it alleges were violations of police regulations, including using vehicles as a barricade and improperly firing from inside a cruiser.