WASHINGTON - One day after police body camera footage showing the fatal shooting of Terrence Sterling was released, the medical examiner has ruled Sterling's death as a homicide and he died from gunshot wounds to the neck and back.
Sterling was shot on the morning of Sept. 11 by a D.C. police officer while he was riding his motorcycle in Northwest D.C. Police said he was riding recklessly and two officers in a police cruiser who had spotted him were attempting to stop him near the Third Street Tunnel. According to police, an officer fired at Sterling after he rammed his motorcycle into the police vehicle.
Authorities said the officer who fatally shot Sterling was wearing a body camera, but failed to turn it on until after the shooting. On Tuesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released the police body camera footage showing the fatal shooting of Sterling as well as the name of the officer who shot Sterling.
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, but shows what happened after Sterling was shot and the police officers performing life-saving efforts on Sterling.
The officer identified in the shooting is 27-year-old Brian Trainer, a four-year member of the department.
WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT AND LANGUAGE. It runs over 5 minutes long, and has no audio for the first 30 seconds.
Two witnesses to the shooting that morning reported hearing two gunshots before seeing Sterling fall off his bike and onto the pavement. But until now, the only documented wound was the one to the neck. A paramedic trying to save his life said as much in a recording obtained by FOX 5.
Both of those witnesses say Sterling was on his motorcycle facing the officer when he was shot and they repeated that claim in phone conversations we had with them on Wednesday.
When Sterling was shot by D.C. Police Officer Brian Trainer, the two witnesses say his hands were on the handlebars of the bike and he was facing the police cruiser that had just cut him off.
In video recorded by witness Howard Dorsey, you can see Sterling tumbled to his left and his helmet was still on as police officers performed CPR. Sterling is bleeding profusely. Dorsey said the two gunshots he heard were rapid fire, which raises the question of how Sterling was hit in the back.
"I don't know the particulars of the case so I can't speak to the facts of what the medical examiner said or what the witnesses said, but in the event where you have a shooting, whether it is two quick shots or shots fired in long succession, when a bullet hits an individual, it may or may not spin them around and then a person is going to react to that shot and they may have turned their body or something like that," said Hilton Burton, a retired D.C. police captain with extensive experience conducting investigations. "So that is kind of hard to say particularly why you would have a shot to the neck and why you would have a shot to the back. Again, that is going to be all part of what the U.S. Attorney looks at - what they will probably present to a grand jury to determine whether there are any culpable criminal charges that need to be filed."
Interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said on Tuesday that the investigation in Sterling's shooting death 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," D.C. Mayor 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."
The attorneys for the Sterling family are expected to hold a news conference at 11 a.m. Thursday.
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.