July 19, 2024

The Michigan attorney general charged a state trooper with murder on Tuesday, saying he was “grossly negligent” when he fatally struck a fleeing man, Samuel Sterling, with a vehicle last month in suburban Grand Rapids.

The trooper, Detective Sgt. Brian Keely, was outside a Burger King restaurant in an unmarked police S.U.V. on April 17 as several officers were chasing Mr. Sterling, who was being sought for warrants and was running from the police. As other officers chased Mr. Sterling on foot, video from dash and body cameras showed, Sergeant Keely drove his S.U.V. into Mr. Sterling, appearing to pin him near the wall of the restaurant in Kentwood, a suburb.

The videos show that Mr. Sterling, 25, immediately cried out and complained that he was in pain after being struck. He was taken to a hospital and died.

Police video footage has become far more common over the last decade as departments, responding to pressure from residents, have made body cameras a standard part of an officer’s uniform. As scrutiny of police use of force has grown, it has also become more common for police officers to face criminal charges for on-duty killings, though convictions can remain elusive.

The footage of Mr. Sterling as he was rammed by the State Police vehicle was shocking to many in Michigan. The state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, said in a statement when the video was released that Mr. Sterling’s death was “unacceptable.” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist called for “answers, accountability and justice,” adding that “I hear, see and feel the incredible pain that people are experiencing right now.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel charged Sergeant Keely, 50, with second-degree murder, which can carry a penalty of up to life in prison, and included an alternate charge of involuntary manslaughter, which carries up to a 15-year prison term. No date has been set for his arraignment.

“Detective Sergeant Keely’s actions that day were legally, grossly negligent and created a very high risk of death or great bodily harm, which could have otherwise been prevented,” Ms. Nessel, a Democrat, said in a statement.

A lawyer for Sergeant Keely, Marc Curtis, said in a statement that his client was a 25-year veteran of the State Police who once received an award for rescuing a hostage. He claimed that Ms. Nessel had “chosen to ignore the facts of this incident and rely on political pressure.”

Mr. Curtis described the trooper’s encounter with Mr. Sterling as “an accident that could have been avoided had Mr. Sterling simply turned himself in” or complied with officers’ commands. The lawyer added that Sergeant Keely “is a man of faith and feels brokenhearted” for Mr. Sterling’s family.

Mr. Sterling’s death prompted outrage in the Grand Rapids area, where another police officer, Christopher Schurr, is awaiting trial on a murder charge in an on-duty killing. Mr. Schurr, who was fired by the Grand Rapids police and has denied wrongdoing, is charged with second-degree murder in the 2022 shooting death of Patrick Lyoya, who, like Mr. Sterling, was Black. State officials did not specify the nature of the warrants for Mr. Sterling’s arrest.

Ben Crump, a lawyer who has represented the families of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Lyoya, said in a news conference last month that there needed to be charges filed in Mr. Sterling’s death.

“We’re going to fight together so they know that you can’t run over our children, using a police cruiser like a deadly weapon,” Mr. Crump said. “It’s unfathomable that you would run over a person who’s running from you, not putting your life in any danger.”

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