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DC reaches settlement with family of motorcyclist killed by police officer

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

WASHINGTON — The family of a motorcyclist who was shot and killed by a D.C. police officer in 2016 has reached a settlement with the District.

The $3.5 million settlement is the largest the city has ever paid involving the death of a citizen by police, according to the attorney representing the family of Terrence Sterling.

Sterling, 31, was shot and killed by a D.C. police officer after leading authorities on a 25-city-block chase after sideswiping a police cruiser in September 2016.

Sterling’s death prompted protests from several organizations, including Black Lives Matter, calling for more police transparency.

“When something bad happens, we keep the public’s trust by looking into what went wrong and taking steps to make things right,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in a statement Wednesday. “This settlement is a step in that direction. We can never say or do anything to bring Terrence back. But we can, and do resolve to illuminate what went wrong and, with great determination, do what we can to ensure no family faces this pain.”

Hassan Murphy, the attorney for the Sterling family, said the settlement would bring closure to the family.

“Unfortunately, nothing will bring Terrence back, but this at least shows the family the city accepts a significant level of responsibility,” Murphy told WTOP.

In December 2017, a police review board found the shooting “unjustified,” and said Officer Brian Trainer was not following department rules when he shot Sterling. Last summer, the U.S. Attorney’s office cleared Trainer of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting.

Sterling’s family filed a $50-million wrongful-death suit against the District in December 2016.

Murphy said the review board’s findings were a “dramatic turn” in the case.

“That showed and demonstrated that the department, itself, found that the shooting was not justifiable and that Officer Trainer had acted without cause, using deadly force to kill Terrence Sterling,” Murphy said. “And that finding made it very clear how this case would most likely go in front of the jury.”

Murphy praised Bowser and Attorney General Karl Racine for reaching out to the Sterling family. Bowser “really established a rapport and a level of trust with this family that was critically important as we worked to resolve this case,” he said.

In a statement released Wednesday, Racine called Sterling’s death a tragedy.

“We resolve to redouble our efforts to promote public safety and trust between police officers and the communities they protect in the District,” Racine said in the statement.

Sterling was riding on a motorcycle westbound on U Street around 4:20 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2016 when he drove along side a police cruiser occupied by Trainer and his partner, who was the driver, prosecutors said. Sterling pulled in front of the police vehicle and sped through a red light.

A chase ensued, covering 25 city blocks, federal officials said. Sterling allegedly drove 100 mph or more, while narrowly missing pedestrians and cars. Trainer said he fired two rounds at Sterling after the motorcyclist crashed into the passenger-side door of the police cruiser he was in.

Trainer was the only officer on the scene who was equipped with a body camera, but he did not turn it on until after the shooting. This prompted protests and led D.C. police to release the footage.

In August 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s office for D.C. said Trainer would not face criminal charges in Sterling’s death because there was not enough evidence to prove that he wasn’t acting in self-defense.

However, at the time, Bowser called for the officer’s resignation.

“Without accountability in this case, we break trust with our community,” Bowser said in a statement at the time. “I do not believe there can be real accountability if

the officer remains on the force.”

Trainer was a four-year member of the D.C. police force.

In addition to the mayor and the attorney general, the Sterling family also received a phone call from D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham offering his condolences, Murphy said.

The family has not met with Trainer or the other officer, Murphy said.

“This is a wonderful family; they actually pray for Officer Trainer every day, which has amazed me,” Murphy said. “I have not seen any anger or bitterness from them. But they still hurt and they still mourn.”

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein and Jack Moore contributed to this report. 


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