DC police officer not charged in fatal shooting of unarmed motorcyclist Terrence Sterling

An image from the body-cam footage in shooting death of Terrence Sterling released by MPD on Sept. 28, 2016. (D.C. police)

The Metropolitan Police officer who fatally shot unarmed motorcyclist Terrence Sterling last September in Northwest D.C., will not face charges, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia.

Following a review of the shooting, the U.S. Attorney's Office concluded on Wednesday that there was not enough evidence to "prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer violated Mr. Sterling's civil rights by using more force than was reasonably necessary, had the necessary criminal intent when he shot Mr. Sterling, or was not acting in self-defense."

According to authorities, two MPD officers were stopped at a red light at the intersection of 15th and U streets, NW, at around 4:20 a.m. on September 11, 2016, when Sterling, 31, pulled up briefly beside them on a motorcycle before accelerating through the red light at a "high rate of speed."

In an attempt to stop Sterling, the officers turned on their lights and siren, but police say Sterling didn't stop. Witnesses and officers say they observed Sterling "operating his motorcycle at excessive and dangerous speeds—sometimes estimated at 100 miles per hour or more."

After a brief pursuit, authorities say Sterling stopped at the intersection of Third and M streets, NW, and the officers pulled into the intersection, blocking the lane Sterling was stopped in.

When attempting to arrest Sterling, who was still on his motorcycle at the time, one officer "removed his firearm from the holster, and put it into a tuck position," before attempting to exit the passenger side of the police cruiser.

Police say during the arrest attempt, Sterling accelerated his motorcycle and rammed into the passenger side of the cruiser, injuring the officer. Then, police say, the officer fired two rounds at Sterling, striking him in his right side and neck.

The officers attempted to perform life-saving measures on Sterling, but were unsuccessful. Sterling was transported to Howard University Hospital, where he later died.

According to toxicology reports, Sterling's blood alcohol content level during the time of the incident was over two times the legal limit at .16. Police say he also tested positive for THC.

On September 28, 2016, D.C. police released body-camera footage of the fatal shooting.


On Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released the following statement after the announcement of the U.S. Attorney's Office's decision not to charge the officer. She says the MPD is calling for the officer to resign:

“Today I was informed by the United States Attorney’s Office that it has concluded its investigation into the September 11, 2016 death of Terrence Sterling without any charges being filed. This was a tragic death of a young man who was much beloved by his family and friends.
”With the conclusion of the criminal investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office, the Metropolitan Police Department will immediately begin its disciplinary review of the officer’s actions. While the District of Columbia Government has no control over the federal prosecutor’s decision in this case, we do control our agencies’ policies and procedures.
“Our police department is one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the country with very progressive community policing practices. The men and women who put on the uniform are among the most professional, dedicated, and compassionate of public servants. The District has one of the nation’s largest body-worn camera programs with expansive rules on public access to footage. As I said at the time and I say again today: it is unacceptable that in this incident, the officer failed to activate his body-worn camera in violation of MPD policies. For that reason, I ordered MPD to change its policy and require officers to confirm with dispatchers that they activated their body-worn cameras when responding to incidents.
“The relationship between our officers and the communities they serve is built on trust. That trust exists when we hold everyone accountable. Without accountability in this case, we break trust with our community–rendering the District and MPD less safe and less strong. I do not believe there can be real accountability if the officer remains on the force. As the department commences its disciplinary review, MPD has asked for the officer’s resignation.
“Nothing we do will bring back a young life lost last September. What we can do is commit ourselves to ensuring justice and providing accountability. On behalf of all residents of the District of Columbia, I want to once again extend our condolences to Mr. Sterling’s family.”

D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton also released a statement:

“As usual with prosecutorial decisions, we do not have information on why the prosecutor declined to move forward. We have seen far too many police shootings of unarmed African Americans in our country, and the public is frustrated by the difficulty in getting prosecutions of officers. There was no need for the police to engage in this vehicle chase, which violated MPD policy, and, as a result, we tragically lost another young African American man in a police shooting that should have been avoided. My thoughts today are with the family, friends, and loved ones of Terrence Sterling.”

Also on Wednesday, the Metropolitan Police Department released the following statement following the announcement:

“Because of the announcement by the United States Attorney’s Office today, the Metropolitan Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau will immediately begin a comprehensive administrative review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of Terrence Sterling. The Internal Affairs Bureau was prohibited from conducting its administrative investigation while the case was being reviewed by the United States Attorney’s Office. When the Internal Affairs Investigation is completed, the case will be submitted to MPD’s Use of Force Review Board for an evaluation to determine if any departmental rules or policies were violated. The Metropolitan Police Department, by statute, has 90 business days to complete this process. The officer will remain on administrative leave. The department again extends its deepest and most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Terrence Sterling.”

Chairman Phil Mendelson also released a statement:

"It is difficult to second guess a prosecutor's decision to not prosecute a shooting case because of insufficient evidence. And the circumstances surrounding last fall's shooting of Terrence Sterling are not crystal clear as to provocation or over-reaction. But there are good reasons for continuing concern in light of last September's police shooting. First public trust in the police is paramount and precious. Police cannot protect a community if they are distrusted or feared. This is why government must discourage use of force by its police, and why, when it does occur, it should be carefully examined. Even if the use of force was not criminal, it is deleterious, because it jeopardizes the trust we need to have in our police.
I understand that there is now a disciplinary (non-criminal) investigation into the incident. A decision not to prosecute is not always an exoneration. If the officer who shot and killed Terrence Sterling did not follow the protocols in place to protect the citizens, then the appropriate discipline should be imposed. This was not an incident of ordinary mistakes: it involved use of force and the taking of someone's life, and it implicates the fundamental public trust the police need maintained. I urge a thorough and unbiased review."

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off