The family of an unarmed motorcyclist who was fatally shot in the back and neck by a D.C. police officer filed a $50 million civil lawsuit this week against the District and police department for needlessly killing a man posing no threat to the officer. Although police officials claim the motorcyclist was killed while intentionally ramming a patrol car, at least one eyewitness continues to dispute their version of events.
Early on the morning of September 11, D.C. Police Officer Brian Trainer and his partner began pursuing a motorcyclist driving erratically. After the patrol car followed Terrence Sterling for several blocks, he reportedly stopped his motorcycle at an intersection for a few seconds.
According to police officials, the patrol car immediately stopped in the intersection to block Sterling’s path. As Trainer began to open his door, Sterling allegedly rammed his motorcycle into the door with the intent of harming Trainer.
But a D.C. resident named Howard Dorsey Jr. who witnessed the incident told The Washington Post that Sterling had only began driving approximately 5 mph as he attempted to swerve away from the parked patrol car. According to Dorsey, Trainer’s door had only opened a couple inches when Sterling’s motorcycle lightly tapped against the door and Trainer abruptly opened fire without warning.
Two bullets struck Sterling’s back and neck before he fell off his motorcycle bleeding to death. According to the recent lawsuit filed by Sterling’s family, Trainer “shot and killed Mr. Sterling from the safety of a police vehicle despite the fact that Mr. Sterling was unarmed and posed no danger” to the officer.
The lawsuit also accuses Trainer and his partner of failing to turn on their body cameras until after the questionable shooting. Instead of capturing the entire incident, the footage shows the officers performing CPR on Sterling’s heavily bleeding body as a woman screams in the background.
Four days after the fatal shooting, police officials implemented a policy requiring all D.C. officers to turn on their body cameras when responding to calls. On Thursday, Sterling’s parents filed a $50 million civil suit against the District and police department alleging negligence and the wrongful death of their son.
During an exigent circumstance, police officers have the right to protect themselves and the public through the use of lethal force. But officers who place themselves in exigent circumstances often rapidly escalate the potential for violence.
Due to the fact that Trainer was not seriously hurt, Sterling’s parents are left wondering why their son was fatally shot in the back and neck if the officer was in fear for his life. The District’s U.S. Attorney’s Office has launched an investigation into the shooting, but Trainer does not currently face criminal charges.