Lawsuit: Black man fatally shot by DC police posed no threat

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Posted: Dec 15, 2016 6:54 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — An unarmed black motorcyclist posed no threat to the District of Columbia police officer who fired two fatal shots from the passenger seat of his police car, the man's parents said in a $50 million wrongful-death lawsuit filed Thursday.

According to the lawsuit, 31-year-old Terrence Sterling sideswiped a police car "with minimal force" before Officer Brian Trainer fatally shot him in the back and neck in the early-morning hours of Sept. 11. Police have said Sterling intentionally rammed the police car with his motorcycle while trying to flee a traffic stop.

Sterling was shot twice, according to the lawsuit. The city Medical Examiner's officer had said previously that Sterling died of wounds to the back and neck but did not specify whether he was wounded by one bullet or two.

Trainer was also negligent in failing to activate his body camera, the lawsuit said. City officials have acknowledged that the officer, who has been on administrative leave since the shooting, did not turn on his camera, and the city has since ordered 911 operators to remind officers to activate their cameras.

The department has not specified the race of the officer, but Jason Downs, the lead attorney for Sterling's family, has said his understanding is the officer is white. Sterling's death prompted protests by activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

"The killing of unarmed black men by police officers must stop. Mr. Sterling's death was senseless and tragic," attorney Hassan Murphy, a partner in the firm representing Sterling's family, said in a statement.

The Baltimore-based law firm also represented the family of Freddie Gray, a Baltimore man who died after an injury he suffered in a police van. Gray's death last year prompted widespread unrest and some rioting and led to a Justice Department investigation of Baltimore police. The District's police department reformed its use-of-force policies after a 2001 agreement with the Justice Department.

The complaint, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of Sterling's parents, contains few new details about the officers' encounter with Sterling. Downs had said previously that there was no evidence that Sterling posed a threat.

Sterling was a heating and air-conditioning technician from Fort Washington, Maryland. It's not clear what he was doing in Washington before he was shot. Police have said the officers were responding to reports of a motorcyclist driving erratically.

According to the lawsuit, Trainer and the officer who drove the police car had a prior encounter with Sterling before the shooting and did not activate their cameras at that time, either. Mayor Muriel Bowser's office released body-camera footage from the other officer that shows only the aftermath of the shooting. The video shows the officers performing CPR on Sterling as he bled heavily onto a sidewalk and a woman screamed in the background.

A police department spokeswoman, Rachel Reid, said the department could not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for Bowser declined to comment for the same reason.

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