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Family of black man killed by Washington police files lawsuit

(Reuters) - The family of an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by a District of Columbia police officer in September filed a lawsuit against the department on Thursday, alleging the victim posed no threat to the officer.

Terrence Sterling, 31, of Fort Washington, Maryland, was shot early on Sept. 11 after he crashed his motorcycle into a police cruiser, police said.

Authorities said Sterling rammed the car intentionally, but the lawsuit alleged Sterling's motorcycle sideswiped the vehicle as he veered away from the cruiser, which had stopped in an intersection to block his path.

Sterling's death triggered demonstrations in the U.S. capital, where nearly half the population is African-American. The protests came amid anger over police killings of African-Americans across the United States that have sparked demonstrations for more than two years.

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The suit in a federal D.C. court alleges that Officer Brian Trainer shot Sterling in his back and neck from "the safety of a police vehicle despite the fact that Mr. Sterling was unarmed and posed no danger to Officer Trainer or any other person." The family is alleging wrongful death and negligence, and suing for $50 million.

"The killing of unarmed black men by police officers must stop. Mr. Sterling's death was senseless and tragic - he did not need to die that night," Hassan Murphy, one of the family's attorneys, said in a statement.

A representative for the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department said the department has a policy not to comment on pending litigation. The union representing police officers could not be immediately reached.

Police said at the time they had seen Sterling riding his motorcycle erratically and pursued him for several blocks before he was shot.

The lawsuit claims that Trainer and his partner, who was driving the cruiser but was not named, failed to properly activate their body-worn cameras, turning them on only after shooting and killing Sterling.

An attorney for the family said in September they saw footage showing a police union representative arriving just minutes after the shooting, sparking anger among protesters over the perceived priorities of the officers.

The complaint also alleged the officers violated department policy by using their police cruiser to block Sterling as he drove his motorcycle through an intersection.

After the shooting, police revised their policy on use of cameras, requiring officers to confirm with dispatchers that their cameras are on when they respond to calls.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and David Gregorio)