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Michigan State Police trooper charged with second-degree murder in death of Kentwood man

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan State Police trooper who drove his unmarked SUV into a 25-year-old Kentwood man that was fleeing from police has been charged with second-degree murder.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the charges against Detective Sergeant Brian Keely on Tuesday after Michigan State Police earlier this month concluded their investigation into the April 17 death of Samuel Sterling and released body camera footage showing the collision.

“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 in a video statement announcing the charges.

The death of Sterling, a Black man, has reignited anger in a community still recovering from the death of Patrick Lyoya just over two years ago. Lyoya, also Black, died after a Grand Rapids police officer shot him in the back of the head during a traffic stop. The shooting, captured on a bystander’s phone, sparked protests. The former Officer Christopher Schurr has been charged with second-degree murder in that case and has pleaded not guilty

In Sterling’s case, police say he fled from officers on foot on April 17 after they approached him at a Kentwood gas station — located just outside Grand Rapids — and attempted to take him into custody on multiple outstanding warrants.

A 15-minute video of the incident released May 10, which includes body and dash camera footage from three separate police agencies, shows police chasing Sterling as they instruct him to stop and put his hands in the air. As Sterling runs past a Burger King, he is struck by an unmarked car and pinned against the building’s wall.

Sterling can be heard moaning in pain as police call for an ambulance. He died later that day in the hospital.

Nessel filed a second-degree murder charge with an alternative involuntary manslaughter charge. No arraignment date has been set, Nessel said.

Marc Curtis, an attorney representing Keely, said in a statement that Nessel “has chosen to ignore the facts of this incident and rely on political pressure.” He said that while the loss of Sterling’s life “is tragic and can never be replaced,” it could have been avoided if Sterling had “simply complied with the commands of the detectives.”

Ven Johnson, an attorney for Sterling’s family, said they support Nessel’s decision.

Keely — who was not identified until charges were announced — “was not wearing a body-worn camera due to his assignment on a federal task force, and the unmarked vehicle he was driving was not equipped with an in-car camera,” according to a May 10 statement. Keely was suspended, said Col. James F. Grady II, director of the Michigan State Police, in an April 18 statement.

Police have said Sterling was “wanted on multiple warrants” but have not expanded on what the warrants were.

Michigan Department of Correction records show Sterling had violated the terms of his probation in June 2022 after he was convicted off carrying a concealed weapon, being a felon in possession of a firearm and stealing a financial transaction device.

Top state lawmakers swiftly denounced the officer’s actions after the footage was released. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called Sterling’s death “unacceptable” and a “departure” from normal protocols. She has said she expects the state to “take steps to terminate the trooper’s employment if criminal charges are issued.”

By JOEY CAPPELLETTI
Associated Press

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