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Michigan attorney general files charges in death of Black man hit by unmarked police car

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(LANSING, M.I.) — The Michigan Department of Attorney General filed charges on Tuesday against an officer who struck and killed a Black man with an unmarked police vehicle.

Michigan state police trooper Detective Sgt. Brian Keely is facing second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges – crimes punishable by life or 15 years in prison, respectively – for the April 17 death of Samuel Sterling, who was being chased by officers in Kentwood for outstanding warrants.

“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,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement.

Marc Curtis, Keely’s attorney, said in a statement provided to ABC News that Keely has made hundreds of arrests without incident over his 25-year career and is “broken-hearted” over Sterling’s death.

“This accident could have also been avoided if Mr. Sterling would have simply complied with the commands of the Detectives,” the statement further said. “Mr. Sterling’s action not only put himself in danger but the citizens that were in the area at the time.”

Sterling, 25, allegedly fled when officers approached him at a gas station and was struck by an unmarked Michigan State Police car after officers converged on him at a parking lot of a nearby Burger King, police claim. He died later that day at a hospital.

Law enforcement body camera footage released May 10 showed officers rushing to Sterling on the ground after he was hit, as he was moaning in pain and claiming he did not have a gun. The unmarked police vehicle is seen up on a curb in front of Sterling, near to the restaurant.

“These charges should serve as a stark warning to law enforcement that their actions have consequences, especially when those actions, which we see all too often, take another life,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Sterling’s family, told ABC News in a statement. “With each ounce of justice, we move closer to equitable policing and a world with fewer tragedies like the one that ended Samuel’s life.”

Ven Johnson, another attorney representing Sterling’s family, said in a statement provided to ABC News that they were “stunned and appalled to see the MSP trooper deliberately drive over a curb – onto a sidewalk – and violently take Samuel’s life by striking him with an unmarked police car.”

“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,” Johnson added.

Officers are seen on the body camera footage putting handcuffs on Sterling and telling firefighters who responded to the scene to keep the cuffs on him.

The released footage came from three agencies who were part of the fugitive task force – the Michigan State Police, Grand Rapids Police Department, and the City of Wyoming Police Department – and included footage from four sources: three officers’ body camera footage and one dash camera from a police vehicle, Michigan State Police said.

Keeley was not wearing a body camera and his vehicle did not have a dash camera “due to his assignment on a federal task force,” Michigan State Police said in a statement.

The Michigan State Police subsequently launched an investigation into the incident and suspended Keely without pay.

“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 further said in his statement.

Nessel said that it was important that the attorney general’s office’s review was swift – for Sterling’s family, the greater Grand Rapids region, and the law enforcement community.

“Public integrity is a top priority for my Department,” Nessel said in her statement announcing the charges, “and we remain committed to providing a thorough and just review and resolution in each case brought before us.”

ABC News’ Sabina Ghebremedhin contributed to this report.

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