The family of Terrence Sterling, the man who was shot and killed by a Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officer after leaving a bachelor party earlier this month, recently held a press conference about the incident and their steps moving forward.
Sterling’s family and their legal representation appeared before media members on Sept. 29 at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Northwest D.C., which is about a 10-minute drive from the area where Sterling, 31, was shot and killed by police on Sept. 11. An investigation is currently underway by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Terrence Sterling family and legal team held a press conference at the D.C. Thurgood Marshall Center Sept. 29 to describe their concerns surrounding the fatal shooting.
“The family thanks the mayor for beginning the investigation,” said Jason Downs, one of the attorneys representing Sterling’s family. “The family is aware that the released portions of the body camera footage and the unreleased portions of the footage leave many questions unanswered.”
The footage only catches the period after Sterling was shot; Officer Brian Trainer said he forgot to turn on his body camera during the incident. Another officer, who was driving the police cruiser occupied by Trainer, 27, had their camera turned off as well. Both officers were placed on administrative leave.
Investigators are still working through evidence. Downs, a trial lawyer with Murphy, Falcon & Murphy of Baltimore, said he is hopeful that justice officials will conduct a “complete, thorough and transparent investigation.”
According to police reports, Sterling was seen driving his motorcycle “recklessly” on Sept. 11 near the 1700 block of U Street in Northwest D.C. A few minutes later, another officer saw a motorcycle matching the same description near 3rd Street and M Street Northwest. When the officer exited the passenger side of the police cruiser to stop the driver, Sterling “intentionally” drove into the passenger door and the officer fired his weapon.
According to Downs, Sterling had gunshot wounds in his back and neck. However, Downs said he did not know the number of times Sterling was shot.
“There is a question as to whether this was a vehicle pursuit and if so, why were they pursuing Mr. Sterling? There’s no evidence that he was a felon and you need to know that you cannot pursue anyone in the District of Columbia for a simple traffic violation,” Downs told reporters.
According to a 2003 General Order on the MPD website, an officer can only use deadly force in a vehicle pursuit if all other methods of arresting the “fleeing felon” have been used unsuccessfully, the suspect poses a threat of death to themselves or others, the suspected crime could or has resulted in deadly harm, the person who is fleeing has committed or attempted to commit a crime and lives of others will not be endangered if the felon is pursued.
Downs said Sterling didn’t appear to be armed.
“It appears that he was killed unlawfully, unjustly and there is a legitimate question as to where that Officer was seen and where he was when he fired the fatal shot that killed Mr. Sterling,” he said.
Downs said that the family questions whether a police union representative, who was seen on the unreleased portion of the footage, was called first or if an ambulance was called first. The family has not requested an independent autopsy.
“The family of Terrence Sterling deserve better, this community deserves justice. Terrence Sterling deserves justice and the family is hopeful that our governmental officials continue conducting a transparent, timely and thorough investigation in pursuing justice for Terrence Sterling,” Downs said.
Investigators are attempting to determine whether or not the police officers had the right to pursue Sterling or whether there is any additional surveillance footage, according to Nicole Chapple, public information officer with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice.
As that investigation continues, Sterling’s death has provoked changes in procedures for Metropolitan Police Department officers and personnel. Since the incident, Chapple said 911 dispatchers are now reminding officers to turn on cameras; when responding to calls, officers who wear body cameras must acknowledge that they have activated the camera. In addition to the reminders and confirmations, training procedures are being modified at MPD Tactical Village, the department’s training facility, and are expected to be initiated within 30 days.