“Coffin Ed here, Federal Po Po. That’s my partner Gravedigger over there.
“Jawanel, we got a witness to you and Tyrone holdin’ up that convenience store over on L St, and shooting Desquaninto. She’s right here, Betty Swan – who works over at Big Joes Grocery and lives off of 12th St NE.
So don’t you guys leave town now, while me and the Feds in-vestigate you…It shouldn’t take more than a year.”
What next in the investigation of unarmed black motorcyclist Terrence Sterling, who was shot and killed on Sept. 11 by D.C. Police Officer Brian Trainer?
Speaking to reporters last week, Jason Downs, an attorney for Sterling’s family, said the 31-year-old was killed “unlawfully and unjustifiably.”
“It appears that Officer Trainer fired his weapon from the safety of his police vehicle when Mr. Sterling did not pose any threat to him whatsoever,” Downs said. The family, he said, wants more information about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, which took place near Third and M Streets NW.
Downs and Sterling’s family aren’t alone.
Hundreds of protesters have taken to city streets, holding vigils and blocking intersections to draw attention to the shooting and demand answers. Other District residents behind closed doors want answers, too.
The frustration is understandable. Three weeks have passed since news broke about the fatal shooting.
Here’s the problem: In all likelihood, weeks — if not months — will elapse before the Sterling family and the public learn anything new. The tragic event is in the hands of D.C. officials and the U.S. attorney’s office.
And federal prosecutors are reluctant to speak about the investigation in its early stage. There’s a history of tight-lipped probes, too.
There have been three police-involved fatalities in the District in the past 12 months. Each was treated by prosecutors the same way, with months elapsing before conclusions were announced.
For example, on Sept. 30, 2016, the U.S. attorney’s office announced that it had completed the review of a fatal shooting by an off-duty Baltimore County, Md., cop that occurred on Nov. 14, 2015, at Union Station. Prosecutors said they found insufficient evidence to pursue charges against the officer.
Next, there’s the investigation into a fatal shooting by a D.C. police officer at an intersection in Northeast D.C. on Nov. 19, 2015. It wasn’t completed until June 24, 2016, when prosecutors announced that they also found insufficient evidence to press charges in that case.
Results of the federal probe into the Sept. 29, 2015, fatal encounter between a hospital patient and two special police officers outside the hospital were announced seven months later, on May 17, 2016. The two officers were indicted by a grand jury on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
In all police-involved fatalities, the U.S. attorney’s office investigates to see whether there is evidence to show that officers violated either federal or D.C. law. In two of the preceding cases, federal prosecutors, as explained in press releases, were unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the force used was excessive and “that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids.” “Prosecutors must,” as stated in the press releases, “be able to prove that the officers involved willfully used more force than was reasonably necessary. Proving ‘willfulness’ is a heavy burden.”
So in the Sterling case, expect the U.S. attorney’s office, assisted by the D.C. police department’s Internal Affairs Division, to conduct its probe in the same way it approached the three other cop-involved shootings — interviewing witnesses (both cops and civilians); combing through physical evidence, videotapes and recorded communications; and examining DNA and autopsy reports. All are time-consuming actions.
Folks are demanding answers now.