After his partner pulled their police cruiser ahead of Sterling’s Kawasaki motorcycle, Trainer said, he began to climb out through the passenger door with plans to order the rider off the motorcycle. The officers had spotted Sterling driving recklessly and speeding, he said.
“I said ‘stop,’ ” Trainer said. “Then I started to say, ‘You better stop.’ ” He said that at that point, Sterling, 31, revved his engine, drove forward and the motorcycle struck the cruiser’s door. Trainer said his leg became pinned between the car’s door and underbody. He said he fired twice to free his leg.
The testimony came on the third day of an administrative hearing in Trainer’s case. The police department has ruled the Sept. 11, 2016, shooting unjustified and recommended that Trainer be fired. Trainer appealed to the three-member panel, known as a trial board.
Senior police officers on the panel ripped into Trainer on Friday, taking turns questioning him about why he pulled his gun, whether his leg really had been injured and even whether he understood the definition of reckless driving.
One captain criticized Trainer and his partner for ignoring commands to not chase the motorcycle, saying that bikers often “play cat and mouse” and that the officers “went after him like a rabbit.”
Under questioning from Capt. Robert Glover, Trainer was unable to fully articulate the department’s policies on police chases or the use of firearms. Glover expressed doubt that Trainer could ever regain the trust of city residents and even his colleagues.
He asked the officer what he would say to Sterling’s mother. Trainer answered, “I would express my sorrow for her loss.” Glover shot back: “You wouldn’t apologize?” Trainer answered, “I don’t know, sir.”
The hearing is being held to determine whether Trainer violated department rules. The format is similar to a court trial with witness testimony, exhibits and questions from attorneys and the panel. Other police witnesses and experts have testified.
Nada Paisant, an attorney for the District of Columbia, repeatedly asked Trainer why he took the time to pull his gun from his holster while sitting in the squad car, yet did not touch his chest twice to activate his body-worn camera. He had been wearing the camera for six months, and police said he violated policy by not switching it on until after the shooting.
Paisant also asked why Trainer pulled his weapon when there was no alert that Sterling was armed or dangerous and the officer had planned only to arrest him for reckless driving, a misdemeanor offense.
“Everything happened in less than two seconds,” Trainer said. “I was focused on giving the verbal commands first, not turning on the camera. I was just trying to get Mr. Sterling to stop. I didn’t have enough time.”
“But you had enough time to remove your gun from the holster and point the muzzle downward, but you didn’t have the forethought to turn on your body camera?” Paisant asked.
Trainer responded softly, “Correct.”
He said after he felt the door on his leg, “I discharged two rounds from my service weapon and the pressure on my leg was relieved when the motorcycle tipped over.”
Paisant also asked why Trainer and his partner, Jordan Palmer, decided to pursue Sterling through the city, even after two supervisors ordered them to not give chase.
Trainer, 29, said they did not chase Sterling but instead “aggressively canvassed” through the city, with Trainer looking down side streets.
Trainer said the encounter began when Sterling pulled alongside the cruiser, turned his head toward the two officers and then sped off through a red light.
The fatal shooting at Third and M streets NW prompted protests and immediately raised questions about the officers’ conduct. In February, the city settled a lawsuit filed by Sterling’s family for $3.5 million.
Trainer’s attorney, James Pressler, asked Trainer whether he knew Sterling was black. Trainer, who is white, said he did not know Sterling’s race until after the shooting. He said the motorcyclist had been wearing a helmet, large jacket and long pants.
Officials also said the injuries to Trainer’s right leg were inconsistent with being pinned the way he described and were more consistent with scrapes from kneeling on the ground as he performed CPR on Sterling.
At one point, Trainer told Cmdr. Morgan Kane that he had been disciplined in the past for failing to turn on his body camera but could not recall how many times.
Kane said she believed he did not turn it on because he meant to cover up the unauthorized chase. “How did a traffic stop fit into your mission?” Kane said. “How did we get all the way here for a red light violation? . . . You willfully disregarded the policies of the police department, everything that we taught you.”