WASHINGTON — A white D.C. police officer testified in front of a disciplinary panel Friday about the events leading up to the killing of a black motorcyclist.
On the third day of a hearing that will help determine whether he keeps his job, Officer Brian Trainer said the confrontation with Terrence Sterling — which occurred after a 25-block chase through D.C. streets in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2016 — happened “very rapidly.”
The incident began in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, where, he said, Sterling ran a red light in front of him and his partner, who was behind the wheel. After a chase (and aggressive canvassing when they lost sight of the motorcyclist), the officers confronted Sterling at Third and M streets Northwest, blocking his motorcycle.
The motorcycle then tried to ram the car, Trainer contends.
In that confrontation, Trainer said, Sterling’s motorcycle made contact with the squad car’s passenger-side door as he was trying to exit, and that it was all applying pressure on his leg.
“I feared that he was going to try and run me over,” testified Trainer, who fired two shots at the Fort Washington, Maryland, man, killing him.
On Thursday, witnesses cast doubt on this account.
Police Cmdr. Morgan Kane, who leads the panel of three presiding over the hearing, asked Trainer on Friday how he expected to rebuild the trust of the community if he stayed on the force, given a “willful disregard of policies of the Police Department.” Trainer had no answer.
The panel, which also included police Capt. Robert Glover and Capt. Judith Mack, aggressively questioned Trainer on his disregard for department polices, and they pointed out inconsistencies between his and his partner’s accounts.
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. When asked Friday about why he could draw his weapon yet not activate his body cam, he replied, “It wasn’t in the front of my mind to do that.”
The panel pointed out that it wasn’t the first time he’d violated the body cam rule.
Earlier Friday, two character witnesses described Trainer as a calm presence who kept others from overreacting, and who never crossed the line when forceful action was taken.
Sgt. Shawn Rooney, Trainer’s former supervisor who also saw Terrence Sterling speeding through Adams Morgan that morning, said he “never observed [Trainer] lose control.”
And Sgt. Andrew Creveling, who graduated from the academy with Trainer, said his former classmate was the one who normally would de-escalate a situation, especially when it involved people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, while working in Adams Morgan.
“I have one of the highest opinions of Officer Brian Trainer,” Creveling said.
Both witnesses, however, also admitted that an officer who disobeys an order to break off a pursuit would be guilty of insubordination and misconduct.
An officer had testified Thursday that Trainer and his partner had ignored a sergeant who radioed that the pursuit of Sterling should be halted.
“I didn’t perceive those [statements] as a reason for us not to chase,” Trainer testified Friday.
A recording was also played Friday of a witness named Tim Olson, who lived near the site of the shooting. Olson told an internal affairs investigator that he heard an engine rev twice before he heard two gunshots. He was unavailable to provide additional details, as investigators have been unable to find him.
Sterling sustained wounds to his neck and side. A former medical examiner testifying for Trainer suggested the fatal shot was up close, and that Sterling’s head was turned toward Trainer.
Toxicology results later showed that Sterling’s blood alcohol content was 0.16, two times over the legal limit, and that he tested positive for THC.
The disciplinary panel was set to hear from rebuttal witnesses and hear closing arguments Friday. A final decision on whether Trainer keeps his job might take months.
In August, prosecutors said they would not file criminal charges against Trainer, but Mayor Muriel Bowser then called for his resignation. A police department use-of-force review board recommended that Trainer be fired.
Sterling’s family reached a $3.5 million settlement with the District in February.
WTOP’s Jack Pointer contributed to this report.