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Review board says DC police shooting of motorcyclist ‘unjustified’

Protesters in D.C. demanded more transparency after the Sept. 11, 2016 shooting of Terrence Sterling. (WTOP/Nick Iannelli)

WASHINGTON — The 2016 shooting of an unarmed black motorcyclist by a D.C. police officer has been ruled “unjustified” by a police review board, Police Chief Peter Newsham told WTOP Tuesday.

The department’s Use of Force Review Board determined that Officer Brian Trainer, 27, violated department rules when he fatally shot 31-year-old Terrence Sterling in September 2016, Newsham said. The board recommended that Trainer, a four-year member of the force, be terminated from the department.

Newsham first made the announcement about the board’s determination during an interview on Fox 5 Tuesday morning.

“Whenever you use force, there are a number of policies and procedures that our officers are required to follow,” Newsham told WTOP. “I really don’t want to talk about specifics of the exact violations at this point. But when the whole matter is over, a lot of that information will become available to the public.”

The board’s determination that Trainer violated departmental rules comes several months after the officer was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting, which came amid concern over police killings of unarmed African-Americans throughout the U.S. and sparked protests in D.C.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. said in August there was not enough evidence to prove that Trainer violated Sterling’s rights or that Trainer had not acted in self-defense when he shot Sterling, a heating and air-conditioning technician from Fort Washington, Maryland.

Police said Sterling was legally drunk and had marijuana in his system when he sideswiped a police car with his motorcycle and led police on a 25-block chase through D.C. in the early-morning hours of Sept. 11, 2016. Trainer fatally shot Sterling in the side and neck at the intersection of 3rd and M streets Northwest, police said.

After prosecutors announced their decision not to file criminal charges against Trainer, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser called for the officer’s resignation.

“Without accountability in this case, we break trust with our community — rendering the District and MPD less safe and less strong,” Bowser said in a statement at the time. “I do not believe there can be real accountability if the officer remains on the force.”

The shooting sparked protests in D.C. by activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement who called for body camera footage of the shooting to be released. Trainer was the only officer on the scene equipped with a body-worn camera and did not turn it on until after the shooting, police said. Footage showing the aftermath of Sterling’s shooting was later made public.

Sterling’s family has filed a $50 million wrongful-death lawsuit, asserting that Sterling did not pose a threat to the officer before he was shot.

“One of the things I have to say is that the family has been extremely patient,” Newsham said. “I can imagine this has been very difficult for them to have to wait for this process to play out. And so we’re getting a little bit closer (to a resolution). So, hopefully that will help them.”

Trainer has 55 business days to either accept the recommendation that he be fired or challenge it by requesting a hearing before a commander and two captains. If that hearing upholds his termination, Trainer can make one final appeal directly to Newsham.

“So for me to make any predictions about, you know, what happened, how I feel would be inappropriate at this time,” Newsham said. “I need to wait until that process is complete if the member wants to file an appeal. I’ve got to be able to look at it without being influenced or having predetermined notions about what happened.”

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report from Washington. 


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