WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - The biggest question for the family of Terrence Sterling is: What led up to the shooting?
Since the only video we have shows the aftermath of the shooting, WUSA9's Delia Gonçalves had to gather other clues to try figure out what led up to the officer firing his gun.
For the past nine months as the family has waited for answers, Delia has been pouring through the police report and court documents and analyzed video from the police body camera and eyewitness cell phones. But all the video shows us is a narrow view of what happened at 3rd and M Streets, NW when Sterling was shot to death around 4:30 in the morning Sept. 11, 2016.
We know Sterling was traveling southbound on 3rd Street towards the tunnel. Police admit on the record to pursuing the motorcycle. That’s when witnesses said the marked police cruiser – with no lights or sirens on – pulled into the intersection at an angle. The motorcycle struck the passenger side door. According to court documents, police made the move to “prevent Mr. Sterling form traversing that intersection.”
The original police report explaining why police shot and killed a man amounts to just three lines.
1. They attempted to stop the suspect.
2. The suspect intentionally drove his motorcycle into the passenger side of the cruiser.
3. The officer discharged his service weapon.
A witness who was recording on his cell phone from a 3rd Street travel lane told WUSA9 the cruiser cut Sterling off.
The impact was likely a slow one because, according to the video, Sterling was still straddling his bike even after he was shot.
The Sterling family’s lawyer says, in court documents, Sterling was never thrown from his bike and tried to “maneuver his motorcycle around the police vehicle but could not because his motorcycle was trapped between the curb and the street.”
Witnesses said that’s when officer Brian Trainer rolled down his passenger side window and shot Sterling twice, once in the neck and once in the back. Police don’t explain where the officer was when the shots were fired or if any command was given. Sterling was not armed.
Now remember, all of this happened before the body cameras were turned on.
That takes us to the second part of this story: The video
Officer Trainer activated his body cam after the shooting. Video shows Sterling bleeding from two gunshot wounds. His helmet was on, he was straddling his bike and he was not moving.
The video shows the view from officer Trainer’s body camera. Trainer searches for a bag… “I can’t find my…” before reaching into the back seat of the driver’s side to retrieve the bag. He calls for help: “We’re at 3rd and New York,” he told dispatch. But there is some confusion about which block.
“Is that 3rd and New York or 3rd and M which one is it,” asked the officer on the other end of the radio.
The eyewitness cell phone video matches the moment Trainer’s unnamed partner begins chest compressions. It also captures the face of officer Trainer: 27 years old, four years on the force, kneeling next to a man who is bleeding to death.
You can hear his voice: “come on, man,” he shouts.
You also hear witnesses in the background and the one with the cell phone. “They just shot this dude for nothing,” one man said.
“Oh my God are y’all serious what the F****!” screams a woman. Then for more than a minute you can hear officer Trainer and his partner talking to Sterling: “come on man, keep your eyes open. Look at me. Look at me….”
In the end, that’s five minutes of video until the ambulance arrives. But is there additional video we haven’t seen?
There are cameras at the intersection but they are pointed in the opposite direction toward New York Avenue.
Did those cameras capture anything? We don’t know. We also don’t know if officer Trainer’s unnamed partner was wearing a body camera himself and if it was activated.
We do know that officer Trainer violated police policy when he failed to turn on his body cam right away. As a result, D.C.’s Mayor and police chief updated that policy now requiring officers to check in with dispatch immediately to confirm their body cameras are indeed rolling.
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