WASHINGTON - Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office have opened a grand jury investigation into the fatal police involved shooting of Terrence Sterling.
Witnesses have been summoned to appear before a Superior Court grand jury and provide testimony over the next two weeks. It is a probe that comes less than two months after Sterling was shot in the neck by an officer sitting in a cruiser that had moved to block his path at a Northwest D.C. intersection on the morning of September 11.
Sterling was on his way home from a bachelor party at around 4:20 a.m. and was likely headed for the 3rd Street Tunnel when witnesses say a D.C. police cruiser suddenly blocked his path at the intersection of 3rd and M Streets. The motorcycle struck the side of the cruiser and then, according to witnesses, without warning the window rolled down on the passenger side and a uniformed officer aimed his Glock handgun at Sterling and fired twice, hitting the 31-year-old in the neck.
Sixteen days later, Mayor Muriel Bowser identified Brian Trainer as the officer who fired his weapon and released the video recorded by his body worn camera.
"They've had enough time to interview witnesses, to get the autopsy report, to have that autopsy report reviewed by another expert if they want confirmation on certain facts, to review forensic evidence - for example, to go back and look at crime scene photos or video and do a further forensic analysis of that," said David Benowitz, a veteran defense attorney who has represented individuals who have gone before the grand jury. "The fact that after doing all that investigation, that a grand jury investigation is being opened leads me to believe that they are vigorously pursuing a charge."
He added, "Essentially what the grand jury is, is a room inside the U.S. Attorney's Office where members of the community sit and listen to evidence that is presented. As a witness, you would go down there whether you were represented by a lawyer or not. You would go down there and eventually you go into the room alone. Inside that room would be the grand jurors, a prosecutor and a court reporter."
On the morning of the shooting, then-Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham had his own version of what happened in the police-involved shooting.
"Approximately at 4:20 a.m. this morning in the Adams Morgan area of Washington D.C., there was a report of a motorcycle that was driving erratically," Newsham said. "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 that was riding the motorcycle attempted to flee, ended up striking the police car and at that point shots were fired."
At least one witness said the collision with the police cruiser appeared to be unavoidable and Sterling had his hands visible on the bike. Police said no weapons were found.
Sterling's family has hired an attorney who is conducting his own investigation. Jason Down said in a statement: "The Sterling family is cautiously optimistic that the United States Attorney's Office is conducting a grand jury investigation into the homicide of their loved one. The family seeks justice and is hopeful that the prosecutor's conduct a thorough and fair investigation."
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