WASHINGTON - A D.C. police officer petitioning to keep his job after the 2016 deadly shooting of Terrence Sterling took the stand in his own defense on Friday.
Sterling was riding his motorcycle in Northwest D.C. when he was shot and killed by Officer Brian Trainer following a traffic stop and chase on Sept. 11, 2016.
Trainer has been on paid administrative leave since the killing of Sterling, who was unarmed.
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.
In Dec. 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.
Under questioning from his defense attorney on Friday, Trainer testified that he began to get out of his vehicle at 3rd Street and M Street attempting to stop Sterling after he was speeding and ran a red light. He stated he was going to make verbal commands until Sterling turned his handlebars to the left and accelerated very hard. He said he had one leg outside of his cruiser and the other leg inside, and had his weapon in a tucked position as he began to get out of the vehicle.
Trainer said as he stood outside of the cruiser and got his head out of the vehicle, Sterling looked at him, turned left and launched directly at him. He then said he was not in a good position to get out of the vehicle and retreated back inside. Since Sterling was coming deliberately at him, he said he feared Sterling would crush his leg and seriously injure him.
He testified it all happened in seconds and he felt pressure on his leg, and that is when he fired his weapon twice. After that, he no longer felt pressure on his leg.
During the cross examination by the prosecution, Trainer was asked if his leg was pinned outside the door. Trainer replied yes and said, “The threat was the motorcycle and it was going to run me over. I feared a physical harm and that my leg would be crushed as I discharged my firearm.”
Trainer was also asked about his body-worn camera and why he did not turn it on initially during the pursuit of Sterling. Trainer acknowledged there was a pursuit, but he did not think to turn it on while they were aggressively canvassing for Sterling. And just before he opened fire on Sterling, Trainer said he did not have time to turn on his camera. Trainer admitted he had been wearing the camera for nearly six months before the shooting.
On being injured, Trainer is overheard on body camera after he finally turned it on telling an officer he was okay. However, he told the prosecutor that he later felt the effects of an injury to his knee after going to the hospital. But in the medical report admitted into evidence, it says Trainer Trainer complained of a right knee injury, but denied any pain.
As for commands on that night, witnesses interviewed by FOX 5 said they never heard any police commands. On Friday, Trainer said he said “stop,” but did not know how loud he said it. His partner, Jordon Palmer, testified Trainer said “Get the [expletive] off the bike."
Following Trainer's testimony, the prosecution put on a rebuttal case followed by closing arguments. The three judges on the panel will then write a report and send it to the police chief, who can accept the panel;s findings or lower whatever penalty they recommend.