Murder charge filed against MSP sgt. who hit man with unmarked cruiser

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan State Police detective sergeant who hit a man with an unmarked cruiser during a foot chase in Kentwood, killing him, will be charged with murder.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday filed charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter against Brian Keely, 50, of Grand Rapids, in the death of Samuel Sterling. It’s unclear when he will be arraigned.

A file image of Detective Sgt. Brian Keely. (Courtesy Michigan State Police)
A file image of Detective Sgt. Brian Keely. (Courtesy Michigan State Police)

“My office has reviewed multiple police reports from other officers on the scene, read the accident reconstruction report and autopsy, as well as watched bodycam footage and surveillance videos from neighboring businesses prior to completing our investigation,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a short video statement released on social media. “We have found that Detective Sgt. 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.”

Video shows man hit by unmarked MSP cruiser

A probable cause document filed with the court argues Keely “did make an assault or an assault and battery, using a motor vehicle” on Sterling.

Nessel said her office would not be offering more comment outside of what it presents in court, citing “respect for the victim’s family and the legal process.”

“Public integrity is of top priority and my department remains dedicated to providing a thorough and just review and resolution in each case brought before us. It was equally as important in this matter that our review was swift, both for Mr. Sterling’s family, the greater Grand Rapids region and the law enforcement community at large,” Nessel said.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Keely could spend the rest of his life in prison. Involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

MOTHER: ‘STILL A LONG JOURNEY’

Keely had already been suspended without pay by MSP and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had called for his firing if he was charged.

In a Tuesday statement, Keely’s attorney Marc Curtis said he was prepared to argue the case in court and suggested the charges were politically motivated.

“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,” Curtis said. “It is also unfortunate that our Governor, without having seen or heard all the evidence in the case, chose to interject her opinion and side against law enforcement in this matter.”

He said Keely is a “man of faith” who is “broken-hearted” for Sterling’s family.

“However,” the statement continued, “this was an accident that could have been avoided had Mr. Sterling simply turned himself in prior to the U.S. Marshall’s Task Force being assigned to apprehend him. This accident could have also been avoided if Mr. Sterling would have simply complied with the commands of the Detectives. Mr. Sterling’s action not only put himself in danger but the citizens that were in the area at the time.”

The attorney previously told News 8 that Keely “had no intention of purposely harming Mr. Sterling.”

Sterling’s mother Andrica Cage told News 8 that she was “very, very happy” to learn of the charges from the AG’s Office.

Family shows News 8 a photo of Samuel Sterling.
Family shows News 8 a photo of Samuel Sterling.

“Man, I cried. That’s how happy I was,” Cage said. “I got a God. So long as I got a God, I knew it was going to happen.”

She said she is now setting her eyes on a conviction.

“We still gotta fight. It’s still a long journey from now,” she said. “I’m just going to let God handle it, because he knows better than I do.”

Family wants feds to investigate death of Samuel Sterling

Ven Johnson, who is representing Sterling’s family, told News 8 the criminal charges are “merited.”

“The officer in that case clearly used a police car as a deadly weapon, knowing full well that Samuel was right there and by steering into him, by going up and over a curb onto a sidewalk to try to cut him off, he knew that he certainly could hit him. Some would say he intentionally hit him, which it looks like to me on the film, on the video, so absolutely these charges are merited,” Johnson said.

WHAT LED UP TO CRASH

On April 17, members of a metro Grand Rapids crime task force found Sterling, a probation absconder who was wanted on felony warrants that police have not enumerated, at a gas station near the intersection of 52nd Street and Eastern Avenue in Kentwood. They say when they approached, Sterling ran away. Several officers chased him on foot into the parking lot of a nearby Burger King, as did Keely in the unmarked vehicle.

Video previously released by MSP shows Sterling running away and then being hit by the unmarked cruiser on the sidewalk leading into the restaurant.

“The vehicle Detective Sgt. Keely was driving turned and struck Mr. Sterling,” Nessel said.

In the previously released video, Sterling can be heard shouting in pain. He was pinned up against the wall for a few seconds before the cruiser backed away slightly. One of the bodycam videos shows that as he fell to the ground, he clutched his stomach.

The video shows officers called for medical aid and told Sterling to not move and focus on his breathing while they awaited EMTs’ arrival.

Sterling was hospitalized and died hours later. His death certificate shows he sustained “multiple blunt force injuries.”

In his statement, Keely’s attorney pointed out that the unmarked car had flashing lights and a siren and that both were on.

Expert: Chase that killed Samuel Sterling a ‘criminal matter’

Sterling, 25, of Grand Rapids, left behind two young sons, ages 2 and 3, and was preceded in death by a daughter who died shortly after she was born. His family said he worked hard and had a rapping career to support his family.

“He touched a lot of people,” his mother said. “Anybody that needed anything, he would be there for them. He was a good supporter for anybody.”

News 8 previously reported that Keely joined MSP in 1998. In 2016, he was honored with a bravery award for saving a woman who had been kidnapped by her estranged husband. The man fired at police and Keely took a hit to his bulletproof vest.

“Keely is a highly trained and decorated Trooper, a 25 year veteran of the Michigan State Police,” his attorney’s statement said. “He was assigned to the Emergency Support Team for 10 years where he was given an award for Bravery and Life Saving actions when he was shot in the chest while rescuing a hostage from being killed. D/Sgt. Keely has been assigned to the U.S. Marshall’s Task Force for several years, making hundreds of arrests without incident. D/Sgt. Keely has over 12 years experience of safely operating police vehicles without a single at fault accident in the performance of his duties.”

RILEY DOGGETT CASE

Earlier Tuesday, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said he would not file charges against a Kent County sheriff’s deputy who hit 17-year-old Riley Doggett in Grand Rapids on April 8, leading to his death weeks later. He said he the evidence did not reveal an intent to kill or commit great bodily harm, gross negligence or reckless driving.

Ven Johnson, who is also representing Doggett’s family, called the timing of the two decisions “ironic and sad.” He said the cases had “very similar video footage.”

“Missing from Riley’s case is a Burger King right there. But both cars made an immediate right turn right into the path of a pedestrian; admittedly running away, understandably. But that is a deadly force. A car is a deadly weapon under this scenario and … this was not a deadly force situation in either one,” he said.

—News 8’s Ken Kolker contributed to this report.

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