WASHINGTON - The day Terrence Sterling was shot and killed by D.C. police, then-Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham said the Fort Washington man had rammed a police car with his motorcycle and was attempting to flee.
There was no mention of a pursuit.
In fact, what Newsham said that day on September 11 was this: "At approximately 4:20 a.m., 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."
It is against the policy or general orders of the D.C. Police Department to chase any vehicle for a traffic offense. Even if Sterling were riding his motorcycle in a "reckless" manner as the department said in its initial press release, the officers would have had to get permission from a supervisor in order to give chase.
Now, nearly six months later, the D.C. government is admitting the officers ignored the department’s vehicle pursuit policy.
In the civil suit filed by Sterling's family, line 20 says, "Defendant unknown officer drove into the intersection shortly before Mr. Sterling to block a portion of the intersection with the police car he was driving to prevent Mr. Sterling from traversing that intersection."
In its reply to the lawsuit, attorneys representing the city wrote, "Admitted. Further answering, the officers were pursuing Mr. Terrence Sterling who was fleeing at the time."
As FOX 5 has previously reported, two sources familiar with the investigation and the police radio traffic that night say when the report of a motorcyclist driving recklessly was first broadcasted, a supervisor keyed his radio and told the officers on the channel not to chase.
Two witnesses who were stopped at the light at 3rd and M Streets that morning said a marked cruiser without its emergency lights activated suddenly pulled in front of Sterling to block his path. One witness called the collision with the cruiser unavoidable.
Kandace Simms told FOX 5 the day after the shooting that she was in her car stopped at the light and heard no commands from the officer before the shots were fired.
According to the D.C. Police Department’s general orders, the officers involved in the shooting that morning may have also disobeyed three other department policies. Officer Brian Trainer, who the department has named as the officer who fired the shots, did not turn on his body-worn camera until after the shooting. The driver of the cruiser used the car to block a moving vehicle, and according to witnesses, Officer Trainer fired from inside the police cruiser, and at a motorcycle that may have still been moving at the time.
In a request for comment, deputy mayor for public safety Kevin Donahue said, “Because this incident is under active investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and is the subject of ongoing litigation, we cannot offer any comments on it. We once again extend our condolences to Mr. Sterling’s family.”
D.C. Police had a similar response, Dustin Sternbeck, a spokesman for the department said, "we cannot provide comment specific to pending litigation.”
A grand jury continues to investigate the shooting and the two officers involved remain on administrative leave.
Jason Downs, an attorney for the Sterling family says in a statement, "More than five months after Terrence Sterling's tragic killing, the District of Columbia admits that the officers were pursuing Terrence. This raises more questions than answers. MPD's policy clearly forbids police officers to chase motorcycles for traffic infractions. Despite the District's startling revelation, Terrence's family remains hopeful that the government will conduct an honest and transparent investigation regarding the officers' deviation from standards that exist to protect police officers and the public."
The lawsuit was filed in December and is seeking $50 million in damages.