Terrence Sterlings death sparked weekly protests in the District.s death sparked weekly protests in the District.
Terrence Sterlings death sparked weekly protests in the District.s death sparked weekly protests in the District. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Expletives and aggressive behavior are a consistent part of Officer Jordan Palmer‘s policing tactics, according to witnesses and news reports.

Palmer is one of two Metropolitan Police Department officers involved in the 2016 death of motorcyclist Terrence Sterling. He is also under internal investigation for a separate incident in which a suspect suffered a broken bone during a physical struggle.

A third incident came to light earlier this week in a Facebook post by a local bar owner, who filed a complaint against Palmer that was ultimately dropped without a meaningful resolution.

Peyton Sherwood, the owner of the Midlands Beer Garden (and City Paper contributor Tom Sherwood‘s son), declines to get into specifics about the complaint because he was required to sign a confidentiality agreement.

“When he sat across from me he was visibly angry, his eyes were red, he was mad that he had to be there,” Sherwood says of the attempt to mediate the complaint. “I can’t talk about what we discussed in there. I just don’t want to say things that will bring repercussions from the city.”

Palmer’s conduct became widely known following the death of Sterling. In the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2016, Palmer and his partner, Brian Trainer, watched Sterling blow past them through a red light at an intersection on U St. NW.

Palmer, who was driving, disregarded orders from supervisors and gave chase for more than 30 blocks. Palmer pulled the police cruiser into an intersection ahead of Sterling, who had been driving recklessly and crashed into the passenger side door. Trainer fired twice, killing Sterling. An autopsy showed Sterling tested positive for marijuana, and his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

During a disciplinary hearing in April 2018, the Washington Post reported that D.C. assistant attorney general Nada Paisant likened the the officers’ pursuit to a road rage situation. 

“Officer Brian Trainer and Jordan Palmer were pissed off they couldn’t effectuate a traffic stop,” Paisant said. “They were going to stop Mr. Sterling with whatever means necessary.”

Trainer was fired, and Palmerwas suspended for 20 days without pay for his role in Sterling’s death. It is against MPD policy for officers to give chase for traffic infractions.

Palmer is currently under internal investigation for a separate incident in December 2018 involving a man charged with carrying an open container of alcohol and resisting arrest. The Post reports that Palmer “used profanity and pulled out his baton, prompting another officer to intervene.”

Palmer is barred from having contact with the public during the investigation, a police spokesperson confirms.

Although news of the investigation into Palmer first broke in December 2018, Sherwood only came across the article recently, and felt compelled to share his interactions with Palmer. 

City Paper talked separately with Sherwood and his friend, Frederick Uku, who was at the Midlands on the evening in question. Here is what they saw:

Sherwood describes watching police arrest a man in the middle of the street outside the Midlands on Georgia Avenue NW. He says two officers were on top of the suspect, “one with their knee on his head.”

Uku says Palmer was screaming profanities at the man.

A Midlands patron who was also watching the arrest got up from the bar’s patio and walked a few feet into the street. The customer called to the officers that they were being too aggressive, Sherwood says.

Palmer then yelled at the customer to get back onto the sidewalk, and shouted more profanities, Uku says. And though the customer complied, Palmer walked toward him “angrily with his shoulders back and chest puffed out” and put the customer in handcuffs, Sherwood says.

“A bunch of us were like ‘Why are you arresting him? He complied with you.’ Palmer kept saying ‘Stop resisting,’” he says. “It was an intense situation.”

Not long after the incident, Sherwood says he spoke with a friend, an MPD officer who is familiar with Palmer’s history. Sherwood says the officer told him he had previously recommended Palmer receive more training but was overruled. Uku, who was not present for the conversation, backs up Sherwood’s account.

Sherwood later filed a complaint against Palmer with the D.C. Office of Police Complaints (OPC), a contentious process that he says did not resolve anything.

Sherwood says he initially did not want to try to mediate his complaint, but agreed when OPC staff told him that without mediation the case would be dropped.

OPC Deputy Executive Director Rocelle Howard says mediations must be confidential according to D.C. law. Confidentiality allows both parties to feel comfortable speaking freely, she says. 

Howard declined to release a copy of the agreement to City Paper.

“We have a rule that we don’t release our documents,” she says. “We like to hold onto those internal processes.”

Sherwood says the mediation lasted less than an hour. When he called to follow up sometime later, he was told MPD’s internal investigators decided that no further action was needed, and the complaint was dead.

Uku, who provided testimony for the complaint, shares Sherwood’s frustration.

“I have friends on the Metropolitan Police Department. The commander of the Fifth District is a good buddy,” Uku says. “I know people who are fine, upstanding individuals, and this individual, judging from his past conduct, is highly unprofessional, ego-driven, driven by a lot of anger, and not deserving of wearing the badge. Basically the man is going to get someone killed. He already has.”