WASHINGTON – A police officer defended his partner's decision to shoot a black motorcyclist in Washington, D.C., and said that he believed the man drove directly at his partner.
Officer Jordan Palmer's account of the 2016 fatal shooting came during an administrative hearing that centered on whether Officer Brian Trainer feared for his safety when he fired at Terrence Sterling, 31, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The Metropolitan Police Department has ruled the shooting unjustified and recommended Trainer be fired, which he has challenged. The appeal is being heard by an administrative panel known as a trial board. The board will rule on Trainer's action and could recommend discipline.
Ryan Donaldson, assistant attorney general for the district, told the panel during the first day of proceedings Wednesday that Trainer had "undermined the very public trust" that allows the police department to "effectively function."
In August, federal prosecutors determined there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges against Trainer. However, the district has reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with Sterling's family. Palmer was suspended for 20 days without pay in connection with the shooting.
An internal police review continued, and officials ultimately concluded that Trainer and Palmer violated departmental policies as they pursued and attempted to arrest Sterling.
The incident started about 4:20 a.m. in the Adams Morgan neighborhood with reports of a motorcyclist who had run red lights and was speeding more than 100 mph, news outlets reported.
At least two supervisors ordered officers not to pursue the motorcycle over traffic violations. However, Trainer later told investigators that he and Palmer believed the motorcycle posed a threat and were "aggressively canvassing" for it, according to the internal report.
Palmer said he and Trainer had pulled their cruiser into an intersection ahead of the biker, who had been driving recklessly, when Trainer began climbing out the passenger's door to make a traffic stop.
Palmer said the motorcyclist looked at the officers, revved his engine and drove toward them. "I felt and heard the impact" of the motorcycle hitting the passenger door, Palmer said, and then heard gunshots.
Trainer said that Sterling ignored commands to stop before the officer fired.
However, the assistant attorney general for the district noted that police had concluded that Sterling appeared to be trying to clear the cruiser and almost was able to, saying the driver "had a means of escape until Officer Trainer opened his door."
The shooting came amid concern nationwide over police use of force and had sparked protests in parts of the city. On Wednesday, several people with signs demanding Trainer be fired gathered outside the police building where the hearing was held.
The trial board, made up of one commander and two captains, will continue Thursday. Police Chief Peter Newsham has said the board's decision could take several weeks.