Michigan state trooper accused of fatally hitting a fleeing suspect with an SUV is charged with murder

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    Body-worn police camera footage shows the moment before an unmarked SUV, which investigators say was driven by Detective Sgt. Brian Keely, collides with Samuel Sterling. (Photo: Michigan State Police via CNN Newsource)

    (CNN) — A Michigan State Police detective has been charged with murder after investigators say he fatally struck a fleeing suspect with an unmarked SUV last month near Grand Rapids, state prosecutors announced.

    Detective Sgt. Brian Keely on April 17 tried to arrest the suspect, 25-year-old Samuel Sterling, but Sterling fled and was chased by law enforcement officers by vehicle and on foot, according to the Michigan Department of the Attorney General.

    As Sterling was running through a fast food restaurant parking lot in the suburb of Kentwood, the detective – driving an unmarked SUV – turned and struck Sterling with the vehicle, prosecutors said.

    Sterling fell to the ground and began yelling and groaning about pain in his back, body-worn police camera footage shows. He was taken to a hospital where he died from his injuries, the attorney general’s office said.

    Keely, 50, has been charged with one count of second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence, as well as an alternative charge of involuntary manslaughter, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Tuesday. Alternative charges are typically lesser charges brought by prosecutors as a backup in case they can’t prove the most serious offense.

    “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,” Nessel said.

    Keely was suspended from his position following the incident, Michigan State Police Director Col. James Grady II said last month. CNN has sought comment from state police on his employment status following the murder charge.

    The case comes amid a national push for greater scrutiny of police use of force, especially against people of color.

    Grady announced in April the agency would investigate the fatal collision and acknowledged the pain many in the community were grappling with.

    “As an African American male and a father, it’s not lost on me that this is the death of another young African American male following an interaction with police,” Grady said.

    After the charges against Keely were announced, Sterling family attorney Ven Johnson said, “We applaud and appreciate Attorney General Dana Nessel for doing the right thing based on the overwhelming evidence that Keely broke the law when he ran over Samuel Sterling.”

    Keely’s attorney, Marc Curtis, said in a release, “It is unfortunate that in this time of political correctness, Michigan’s Attorney General has chosen to ignore the facts of this incident and rely on political pressure.”

    Video shows moment SUV hits Sterling

    On May 10, state police announced the investigation was complete and all evidence had been turned over to the attorney general’s office. That same day, the agency released an edited compilation of body-worn and dashboard camera footage of the incident.

    The footage shows at least one officer chasing Sterling on foot into a Burger King parking lot when a large grey SUV veers into the lot and hits Sterling, appearing to pin him against the restaurant wall.

    After the SUV reverses away from him, several officers converge on Sterling and order him to put his hands behind his back. Sterling repeatedly screams, “My back,” and groans in pain. After his hands are cuffed in front of him, Sterling continues to complain that his back and entire body hurt.

    “Don’t move man,” an officer says. Officers ask him where he feels pain and repeatedly tell him not to move until emergency medical personnel arrive. Another officer says, “We don’t want you to move your back.”

    Sterling’s family was “stunned and appalled” when they watched the footage, their attorney said in a statement to CNN affiliate WWMT.

    “No one person should be able to appoint themselves as judge, jury and executioner, yet deaths from police brutality and excessive force continue to occur too often. We will continue to seek justice for his family and hold accountable those responsible for his death,” Johnson said.

    While the basic standard is that law enforcement officers can only use deadly force against a suspect if they pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury, this case presents an unusual set of circumstances, said CNN’s Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller.

    “The case will hinge on several factors: Would a reasonable person with Keely’s police training believe that hitting Sterling with the car would have a likelihood of causing serious injury or death? Was that use of force reasonable under the circumstances?” he said.

    The law requires officers to consider the “totality of circumstances,” Miller noted.

    “For instance, in the case of chasing a burglary suspect or shoplifter, deadly force should not be used to stop them,” Miller said. “But if police located a serial killer or an armed active shooter who was running away and their escape posed an imminent threat to others that they might attack or kill, the use of deadly force to stop them could be justified.”

    At the time of the encounter, law enforcement officers representing multiple departments, including the US Marshals Service, “were working a fugitive arrest operation” in an attempt to arrest Sterling, who “was wanted on multiple warrants,” Grady said in April. Authorities did not reveal the nature of the charges.

    Keely’s attorney said Sterling’s loss of life is “tragic and can never be replaced” but argued his death was “an accident that could have been avoided had Mr. Sterling simply turned himself in” before a task force was assigned to catch him.

    “This accident could have also been avoided if Mr. Sterling would have simply complied with the commands of the Detectives,” Curtis said.

    Keely will be arraigned in Kentwood district court, though the date has not been set.

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