Following the announcement from federal officials that they would not file charges against a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black motorcyclist last year in Washington, D.C., a family attorney says he believes a critical piece of evidence was missing from the investigation.
Attorney Jason Downs spoke with FOX 5 about Wednesday's decision not to file charges in the death of Terrence Sterling and about what the next steps will be.
"Reckless driving is not an executable offense," said Downs, when he sat down with FOX 5. "In other words, it's not the death penalty. You should not be shot in the back simply because you were alleged to have been recklessly driving."
The Sterling case began last September, when the unarmed-African American man was fatally shot by D.C. police on Third and M Streets in the District. The officer involved was 4-year-veteran Brian Trainer.
According to police, Trainer fired at Sterling after his motorcycle struck the police cruiser. Police said no weapons were found on Sterling, who officials said was later determined to have a blood alcohol content of .16 and to also have THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his system. Prosecutors also claim Sterling ran several red lights and was riding his motorcycle, at times, at an estimated speed of 100 miles per hour or more.
"Why were the police chasing him in the first place?" Downs said to FOX 5's Steve Chenevey. "Why were they there? Their general orders specifically precluded them from doing this. Why? Because when you engage in high speed chases, it's dangerous. It should not happen. The police should have never been blocking him in at the intersection of Third and M Streets. If they would not have violated their general orders we would not be here right now."
"All the evidence points to the fact that Terrence was trying to avoid the police," Downs said. He said that the family challenges the notion that Sterling would have tried to drive his motorcycle into the police vehicle. He also says that the autopsy speaks for itself when discussing the fatal injuries Sterling suffered.
Downs said that since charges will not be filed against the officer, he will begin searching for critical video evidence he says was missing from the federal investigation. "There was a camera at 3rd and M Streets - that is undisputed," he said. He said that the camera was a Homeland Security surveillance camera and that the video taken by it should have captured the entire incident.
"Where is that camera? How is the most powerful investigative unit in the world - the United States Government - how did they come up empty?" Downs said. "This surveillance footage is in their purview. It's in their custody. It belongs to the government. Where is it?" he said. "It adds insult to injury to not give us the answer to where is the surveillance footage."
Downs says he believes the criminal case can be reopened if that video is found but says he does not have confidence that the government will do so. "They had a ten-month investigation with the grand jury and did not allow the grand jury to vote this case up or down," he said. "If that critical piece of evidence surfaces, then, yes, of course, we are hopeful that the government does the right thing and reopens this investigation."
"But at this point, we have no confidence that our federal government is going to do the right thing and reopen this investigation - or even look for this critical piece of evidence," he continued.
Downs says the civil case had been 'stayed 'pending the outcome of the criminal case and will likely pick up again in the next month depending on the outcome of the administrative investigation.
"I think one of the questions on the administrative side, on the civil side, and on the criminal side is where is the critical piece of evidence -- because I don't want to say no one has it -- someone has it," he said. "It's in the purview of Homeland Security which means our government has the surveillance footage. Where is it?"
"The family is certainly hopeful that Brian Trainer is not allowed to walk the streets of D.C. with a gun any more. That is certainly part of that their hope," Downs said. "But that's not full justice."
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement Wednesday evening that it was "unacceptable" that the officer didn't activate the camera and that she doesn't "believe there can be real accountability if the officer remains on the force." Police are completing their own investigation, but Bowser says police have asked for his resignation.
Downs says the family has been patient and was saddened when news came that charges would not be filed. "Their patience wore thin when they were sitting, listening to the federal government tell them the results of an investigation that left out the most critical piece of information, that being the surveillance footage," he said. "Left out the fact that we have witnesses that say that this officer fired from his vehicle and the autopsy shows that Terrence was shot in the back."
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