WASHINGTON - Unlawful and unjustified. That is how the attorney representing the family of Terrence Sterling described the Maryland man’s death by D.C. police.
Jason Downs and the Baltimore law firm of Murphy, Falcon and Murphy have been hired to represent the Sterlings as the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office conduct their investigation into the shooting.
At a Thursday morning news conference with Sterling's parents, their attorney said a police union representative arrived before EMS personnel arrived on the morning Sterling was fatally shot on Sept. 11.
Florence and Isaac Sterling along with Downs sat down with FOX 5 following the news conference. Sterling's parents thanked the community for the peaceful protests so far, but they said right now, they want a fair, full and transparent investigation into their son's death.
Downs said footage from D.C. Police Officer Brian Trainer's body camera that was not shared with public raises questions about the priorities of the police.
"The footage that was shown to my office and the family was approximately one minute more than the footage that was released to the public,” Downs said. “And on the footage that was shown to the family, there was a clear indication that a police union representative showed up to the scene, identified herself as a union representative to Officer Trainer and suggested that Officer Trainer turn off his body camera.”
You hear others at the scene tell Officer Trainer, a 4-year veteran who fired his service weapon that killed Sterling, to get away from the scene and that is when the video disseminated to the public cuts off.
Downs said the Sterling family has deep concerns the union representative may have been called before EMS.
"We just don't know,” said Downs. “That is a question that the family would like to be answered – who did the officers call first?”
Sterling’s parents declined to comment about what happened to their son and let their attorney do all of the talking to FOX 5.
"What is strange is that he didn’t turn on his camera until after shooting Terrence Sterling,” said Downs. “That is what's strange and that is what deserves an answer.”
D.C. Police Union chairman Matthew Mahl told FOX 5’s Paul Wagner:
"In police shootings, all available units respond to the scene. That night, there were two shop stewards working in [the Third District], who when the scene was secure, told the officer to turn off his body camera."
Downs said the family also wants to know more about whether the officers violated the police general orders, which states an officer shall not shoot:
“At or from a moving vehicle unless deadly force is being used against the officer of another person. For purposes of this order, a moving vehicle is not considered deadly force. Members shall, as a rule, avoid tactics that could place them in a position where a vehicle could be used against them.”
As for the missing minute of body camera footage that the family was able to see, but was not released to the public, the mayor’s office explained to FOX 5 it was not released because their protocol says any footage recorded after EMS arrives on the scene does not get shared with the public.
“We released the amount of footage we always release – from the time it engages until the time medical arrives,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
But police body camera video released in the case of 27-year-old Alonzo Smith, who died after being taken into custody by special police officers last November, shows otherwise. We asked Bowser about that footage.
“I think you see the police officers pumping him,” Bowser said. “As long as the police officers are on site, we cut it off when EMS arrives.”
But for an entire minute and a half in this body camera video that was released to the public following Smith's death, you see EMS along with D.C. police officers attempting to resuscitate Smith.
According to records obtained by FOX 5, the first dispatch was at 4:29 a.m., but was to the wrong location a block and a half away. The EMS dispatch said:
"Medic 1, EMS 7 respond for shooting. 300 N Street Northwest. N as in November, cross with New Jersey Avenue."
Approximately two minutes later, a second dispatch was made to the correct location for a motor vehicle accident, which sent two different units.
This is what was said over the D.C. police citywide channel around the same time.
"You have a 3D unit on the scene and is a cyclist injured on a bike – was it an accident?”
“Did an MPD vehicle strike the cyclist?”
“Yes, yes, yes.”
FOX 5's Marina Marraco asked D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser if she was concerned about EMS being sent to a different location than where the shooting actually happened, she told us she doesn't believe that is accurate despite the radio transmission that indicate otherwise.
"I don't want to argue with you, but I don't believe that is right," she said. "We have committed to is being transparent with this process and making sure the U.S. Attorney has what it needs and that Internal Affairs has what it needs to complete the investigation."
There are still many unanswered questions surrounding Sterling's shooting. Here is what we know so far:
Sterling, 31, was shot by a Metropolitan Police Department officer at the intersection of 3rd and M Streets NW . Before the shooting, Sterling was spotted by an officer on a motorcycle being driven "recklessly" near the intersection of 17th and U Streets NW. It was around 4:20 a.m. and the motorcycle was heading east.
Sterling, of Fort Washington, Md., worked as an H-VAC technician and had just left a bachelor party, according to his employer-- who added he was likely heading for home via the 3rd Street Tunnel.
Two sources familiar with the investigation say a police supervisor keyed his radio and told all units NOT to pursue Sterling. A few minutes later, Sterling drove his motorcycle down New Jersey Avenue, heading for the light at 3rd and M Streets NW-- one block from New York Avenue and the entrance to the 3rd Street Tunnel.
According to witness Kandace Simms--who was sitting in her car waiting for the light to change-- Sterling rode his bike down the left lane next to her, and he suddenly collided with a Metropolitan Police Department cruiser. Simms says the cruiser pulled into the intersection in what appeared to be an attempt to block the motorcycle, and the collision in her opinion was unavoidable. She tells FOX 5 Sterling then revved the engine, and appeared to be trying to find a way to drive off when the window on the passenger side of the marked cruiser rolled down, and the officer in the passenger seat fired two shots. Simms says she heard no commands from the officer, and neither the police car's lights nor the siren were on. Sterling, she says, immediately fell off the bike and she could see blood coming from the area around his helmet.
We know from a cell phone video recorded by another driver waiting at the light that the officers got out of the cruiser, and attempted to perform CPR on Sterling. The video aired on another local TV station, and the owner of the footage has turned it over to DC police.
According to a recording obtained by FOX 5, the paramedic treating Sterling says he was shot once in the neck and was in cardiac arrest as they sped towards Howard University Hospital. However, it was later determined by the medical examiner's office that Sterling died from gunshot wounds to the neck and back and the manner of death was homicide.
Later that morning, Assistant DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters, "At approximately 4:20 am, there was a report of a motorcycle that was being driven erratically. Officers found the vehicle over here in the intersection of 3rd and M street Northwest, which is about a block north of New York Avenue. They were able to stop the vehicle. The person who was riding the motorcycle attempted to flee and ended up striking the police car and at that point, shots were fired."
The next day (Monday, September 12), DC Mayor Muriel Bowser held a news conference in which she revealed that the officer who fired the fatal shots was wearing a body camera, but failed to turn it on until after the shots were fired. This is a violation of protocol. Mayor Bowser also confirmed investigators were looking into allegations that the officers in the cruiser violated two other general orders by using the car as a barricade to block the path of the motorcycle, and by firing at a moving vehicle from inside a police cruiser.
Since the shooting, police say a number of witnesses have come forward and given their accounts of what happened that morning. Until now, Bowser had not released the footage recorded by the officer's body camera.
According to a police report, no weapon was recovered from the scene, and police have not said they recovered one.
It's unclear what threat the firing officer felt he was under. Mayor Bowser has declined to say why the officer opened fire.
Mayor Bowser says she reached out to the family following the shooting and offered her condolences. Several days later, she had ordered a change to the body camera regulations, ordering all dispatchers to remind officers given assignments to turn them on. In return, the officers have been told to confirm over the radio the cameras are recording.
The U.S. Attorneys office is investigating the shooting along with DC Police.
PROTESTS FOLLOWING SHOOTING
Several protests have taken place in the District since Sterling's shooting. Last week, protestors gathered near the shooting scene to pass out fliers, while chanting, "We have questions, we need answers!" And on Monday, protestors again gathered at the scene at 4:19 am - the time of Sterling's deadly encounter with officers. They held signs and called for transparency from police in the investigation. Around 8 a.m., a group of protesters moved into the intersection of New York Ave. & 3rd Street, blocking traffic.
ABOUT THE OFFICERS
The officers, who according to sources were working as a crime suppression unit that morning, have both been placed on administrative leave. The driver has been on the force for two-and-a-half years. The officer who fired the fatal shots is Brian Trainer, a four-year veteran of the department. the second officer's name has not been released. Both officers work in MPD's Third District.
ABOUT TERRENCE STERLING
Terrence Sterling worked for AMD Mechanical contracting of Waldorf, Md. He did most of his work at Leisure World in Silver Spring, where he helped residents with their thermostats and heating and cooling systems. Anthony Dixon, his employer, says he has known Sterling since he was 5 years old, and hired him when he was 19. He says the police account of what happened is shocking and out of character from the Terrence Sterling he knows.