Post Praise for Police Transparency Misses Key Point: Details Still Secret on Chase Driver's Conduct in Sterling Death

The Washington Post editorial board wrote this morning (21) praising the “rigor and openness” of D.C. police internal trial board proceedings, concluding “it’s good that the D.C. police department recognized the importance of transparency, and that it has moved to hold accountable the officer whose actions caused what was determined to be an unnecessary death.”

Sounds good? But unfortunately, the Post was talking about only half the case concerning the events of September 11, 2016, that ended with the recent hearing upholding the proposed termination of Officer Brian Trainer.

Trainer was the officer whose shots ended the life of motorcyclist Terrence Sterling.

But his colleague, Officer Jordan Palmer, played a key role, choosing to race through the early morning streets in an unauthorized pursuit from Adams Morgan to the Third Street tunnel.

The hearing prosecutor Nada Paisant (according to the Post's reporting of the hearing) unhesitatingly linked the two.  The officers were "pissed off they couldn’t effectuate a traffic stop,” she said at the hearing. “They were going to stop Mr. Sterling with whatever means necessary.”

Palmer’s modest discipline (a brief suspension) raised questions about the investigation and official conclusions about his own misconduct. How are his violations of department rules (including ignoring two sergeants' radio calls to break off the chase) so much less significant?  The investigation of Trainer implicated both, finding (according to the Post) "had they followed Department policies; Officer Trainer would not have been in a position to use force on Mr. Sterling,"

Yet the report of the Palmer inquiry remains secret, as MPD rebuffed a reporter’s request claiming Palmer’s privacy was the most important thing (and on appeal, the mayor agreed).

Like the MPD, the Post needs a broader view of the public interest, embracing not just some but all the facts of what happened and how the department responded to the tragic events of September 11, 2016.


For earlier discussion of transparency issues in the Palmer part of the case, case, see blog post here.