D.C. officials are calling for greater police accountability after it was announced last week that criminal charges would not be filed against a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer who fatally shot an unarmed motorcyclist.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced Wednesday, Aug. 9 that not enough evidence was found in its investigation to pursue a case against Officer Brian Trainer, who shot and killed 31-year-old Terrance Sterling in Northwest on Sept. 11.
After reviewing the incident, federal prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to prove that the Trainer “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.”
But District officials did not agree with the federal ruling.
Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, released a statement expressing frustration in the District’s limited ability to control legal matters.
“I would be remiss if I did not express my frustration that the District residents to whom I am accountable do not have complete control over our criminal justice system — it is wrong that federal entities prosecute local crimes,” Allen said. “Meaningful criminal justice reform is intimately tied to our autonomy as a community.”
He said D.C.’s lack of control in such matters “compounds the ability to heal and move forward through legislative oversight.”
“This outcome is painful because a young African-American man lost his life and because incidents such as this erode community trust in law enforcement,” Allen said. “The District is not immune to concerns around use of force.”
According to a U.S. Attorney’s office statement, at approximately 4:20 a.m., Sterling pulled up next to a patrol car in which Trainer was a passenger, stopped briefly and accelerated at a high speed through the red light, prompting a chase where Sterling reportedly reached speeds of 100 mph.
Eventually, the officers blocked and intersection where Sterling stopped his motorcycle. As Trainer exited the cruiser, Sterling “revved his motorcycle and then accelerated,” hitting the passenger door, the statement read.
Trainer responded by firing two shots, both of which hit Sterling.
But city officials said Trainer violated department policy when he failed to activate his body camera for up to three minutes after the shooting.
“While the District of Columbia government has no control over the federal prosecutor’s decision in this case, we do control our agencies’ policies and procedures,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser. “The District has one of the nation’s largest body-worn camera programs with expansive rules on public access to footage.”
The incident prompted a department wide change that requires officers to confirm with dispatcher that their body-worn cameras are activated when responding to incidents.
“It is unacceptable that in this incident, the officer failed to activate his body-worn camera in violation of MPD policies,” Bowser said.
She said footage that could have been captured during the incident could have been beneficial to the investigation, and has called for Trainer’s resignation.
“We feel very strongly that our relationship in the community is built on trust, and trust is firmly built on accountability,” Bowser said. “We believe, strongly, that there has to be accountability in this case.”
MPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau was prohibited from conducting its own administrative investigation until the U.S. Attorney’s Office completed its review of the case.
MPD said it will “immediately begin a comprehensive review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of Terrance Sterling” to evaluate and determine if excess force was used and any potential violations of department rules and policies.
MPD has 90 days to complete its evaluation. Trainer will remain on administrative leave during the duration of the department investigation.