WASHINGTON - The police officer who shot and killed an unarmed-African American man after a traffic stop in D.C. is fighting for his job.
Officer Brian Trainer has been on paid administrative leave since the September 2016 shooting that left 31-year-old Terrence Sterling dead. Trainer stood before the D.C. police trial board on Wednesday to petition for his job and pleaded not guilty to the three charges he faces.
Sterling was on his motorcycle in Northwest D.C. when the shooting and chase happened. The shooting was immediately clouded in controversy as D.C. police protocol forbids officers from pursuing vehicles for traffic violations. It was also learned that Trainer did not turn on his body camera until after the shooting.
Following the shooting, Trainer told investigators that he feared for his life and fired as Sterling's motorcycle struck the door of his police cruiser. He also stated that his leg had been pinned due to the force of Sterling's motorcycle hitting the door of the police cruiser.
Howard Dorsey, a witness to the incident, described what he testified at the trial board.
“I was just parked at a red light. The bike came up on my left-hand side," he said. "He was walking the bike and he got in front of me and that is when the police cruiser came in a matter of seconds and he leaned off to the left. When he leaned off to the left and started going, he tapped the door because I remember seeing the door partially open and shots were fired.”
Trainer sat at the defense table on Wednesday as an internal affairs investigator testified to the trial board about what unfolded the evening of Sept. 11, 2016. The investigator told the panel, which features two captains and a commander, that he did not believe the injuries Trainer claimed to have sustained when Sterling's motorcycle struck his patrol cruiser. The investigator said he believed the injury Trainer sustained to his leg occurred while he was attempting to render aid to Sterling.
A photograph showed to the trial board indicates there were three to four red marks to Trainer's right leg, but no blood was visible. The investigator said if Trainer's leg was pinned by the door, he would've sustained injuries to both sides of his leg.
Before his body camera was turned off, Trainer told an officer responding to the scene that he was not injured.
Testimony presented at the trial board revealed the driver of the cruiser, Officer Jordan Palmer, admitted to pursuing Sterling without permission. Trainer told a different story to investigators following the shooting, stating he and Palmer were doing what is called an aggressive canvassing of the area.
After hearing that information, one of the captains on the trial board asked why Trainer wasn't charged with making a false statement. A detective on the stand said it was a judgment call.
The community held a vigil Wednesday continuing to seek justice for Sterling after Trainer was not brought up on criminal charges.
In December 2017, D.C. police determined the shooting of Sterling was unjustified and recommended Trainer be fired. In February, Sterling’s family reached a settlement agreement in the civil suit filed against the D.C. government for $3.5 million.
Trainer's hearing before the trial board is expected to continue through Friday.