WASHINGTON - The video from a police body camera showing the fatal shooting of Terrence Sterling has been released Tuesday. The officer who fired on Sterling in Northwest DC on Sept. 11 has also been identified. WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT AND LANGUAGE. It runs over 5 minutes long and has no audio for the first 30 seconds.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue officially released the footage Tuesday afternoon at the direction of D.C. Mayor Bowser. The video from the firing officer's body-worn camera does not show the moments leading up to the shooting or the actual shooting itself. It does show the moments after Sterling was shot and life-saving efforts that took place at the scene.
Bowser authorized the release of the footage after deeming it to be in the public interest and consistent with the goals of the District’s body-worn camera program to create broader accountability between law enforcement and communities, and to maintain open and transparent government, the city said in a statement.
Bowser also authorized the release of the firing officer's name. That officer has been identified as 27-year-old Brian Trainer, a four-year member of the department.
The city said Trainer's body-worn camera was not activated until "some moments after the shooting." Once a body-worn camera is activated, officials said it automatically captures the immediately preceding 30 seconds of video, but not audio -- which is why the clip released Tuesday has no audio for the first 30 seconds.
Bowser consulted with U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips and Attorney General for the District of Columbia Karl Racine before making the decision to release to publicly release the footage, the city said.
“The law gives me discretion on video that is not subject to [the Freedom of Information Act], which this is not because it involves an investigation, to decide if a video should be released because it is in the best public interest and so that is the decision that I made,” Mayor Bowser told FOX 5.
Sterling was on a motorcycle when two officers tried to stop him near the Third Street Tunnel. He was shot in the neck that morning after police said he rammed the cruiser while trying to get away. But witnesses said the officers blocked his path and the collision with the police car was unavoidable.
A few minutes after the video was released, protesters gathered at Third and M Streets in Northwest D.C. where Sterling was shot. They formed into a circle where they watched the footage together. Some of them were shaking their heads at what they were seeing.
The newly-released footage shows Officer Trainer going to the back of his cruiser to retrieve a first aid kit. The only words coming from Trainer were for Sterling to open his eyes as he is lying on the ground bleeding. Trainer and another officer remove Sterling’s helmet and give him chest compressions as they perform CPR.
Sterling's father and the lawyer he has hired were shown the video in a private meeting with police earlier on Tuesday. Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham was unwilling to describe what happened during that meeting.
"This is a family that has lost their son,” Newsham said. “I have to respect their wishes. I really don't want to talk about it publicly. They asked us not to talk about it publicly.”
Newsham said the mayor made the final decision on releasing the footage and the officer’s name. He also said the investigation is still ongoing.
“There is no way in the world I can tell you exactly what happened,” said Newsham. “That is why we have an investigation and I think you all know that as well – that the police department has a responsibility when something like this happens to give a preliminary statement and we caution folks that the statement is preliminary. Frequently, information changes and that is why we do a more thorough investigation.”
“First and foremost, we have a body-worn camera program so that we can know what happens with interactions and we are disappointed that we didn’t have access to body-worn camera footage of the incident itself, which is why we acted immediately to change the process to give officers a reminder about turning on cameras and reporting back to our dispatchers the camera has been turned on," Bowser said. "Obviously, it is upsetting to watch and we want to make sure we are being transparent and there is an impartial investigation. What body-worn camera doesn’t tell even in the best of circumstances, it won’t tell every detail of what happened so that is why it is important investigators can get to the bottom of what happened.”
After the protesters watched the video, they marched to Metropolitan Police Department headquarters where they demanded more than just a name and five minutes of video footage.
"They told us one officer’s name – that is not good enough,” said protester Steven Douglass. “This man who was his partner is a conspirator to murder. This was murder. They gave us one name and try to pacify us with that and that is not good. They also gave us video footage after this young man was shot. We want accountability from everybody.”
Douglass, who was friends with Sterling, said he wants a civil rights investigation opened up as well.
D.C. Police Union chairman Matthew Mahl released a statement regarding the mayor’s decision to release the body camera footage:
The Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee - D.C. Police Union would like to take this opportunity to strongly condemn, in the most vehement terms, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s decision to release the body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting that happened in the Third Police District on September 11, 2016 before the conclusion of the investigation. Furthermore, Mayor Bowser’s decision to release the names of the officers involved in the incident is reckless to the extreme. This decision places these officers in danger of misguided retaliation fueled by a false media narrative, and is a completely unacceptable action. The lives of our members are not pawns in some political game, to be thrown to anti-police special interest groups in the pursuit of an unlikely re-election bid for a flawed administration. These actions only show that Mayor Bowser places political expediency over the lives of the men and women who protect her and her constituents. The Metropolitan Police Department, its Leaders and Officers have worked hard for over ten years to build strong and trustworthy relationships in the communities we police. The actions of Mayor Bowser will also only serve to undermine our efforts to retain and recruit qualified officers in an already volatile and anti-police environment nationwide. The Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee stands against these reckless and selfish actions. We will continue to maintain the strong bonds we have built with the public, and will as always protect this city, its residents and visitors, each and every day.
As always, be safe and watch each others’ backs.
Mayor Bowser responded to the police union's statement telling FOX 5, "I think police officers know that in all my years of public service, I advocate support of them having the best tools and best resources and that won’t change. I understand that if anybody is doing politics, it’s not me.”
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.
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.
WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT AND LANGUAGE. It runs over 5 minutes long, and has no audio for the first 30 seconds.