Prosecutors won't charge Seattle officer in woodcarver shooting

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by KING 5 News and Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on February 16, 2011 at 11:09 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 16 at 9:12 PM

SEATTLE – King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg will not file a criminal charge against Seattle police officer Ian Birk in the fatal shooting of woodcarver John T. Williams.

"We do not and legally cannot put police officers on trial for murder or send them to prison for their discretion to use deadly force in good faith and without malice, however tragic the outcome may be," Satterberg announced Wednesday, referencing a Washington state law.

"There is no evidence to show malice, there is no evidence to refute Officer Birk's claim that he acted in good faith," added Satterberg. "There is simply no evidence to overcome the strong legislative directive … not to prosecute a police officer under these circumstances."

Without filing a charge, Satterberg said the Aug. 30 shooting is still troubling and Birk may face a civil lawsuit and discipline from the Seattle Police Department.

"The officer appears to have made serious tactical errors that compounded the potential for risk to himself," said Satterberg. "We wonder why the officer decided to stop Mr. Williams, why he drew his gun, why he did not call for back-up...We are troubled that he did not seek to use those options before firing his gun within five seconds of calling out to Mr. Williams."

Satterberg said he received 1,200 e-mails about the case with many people urging him to charge Birk as a way to bridge the divide with minorities who fear they will be mistreated by police.

On Aug. 30, 2010, Birk, 27, confronted Williams, 50, as he crossed a street holding a piece of wood and the knife with a 3-inch blade. The incident was captured on Birk's police car dash-cam. Birk could be heard ordering Williams to drop a knife he was carrying, followed by several shots. Birk and Williams were out of camera view when it happened.

Birk has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. An inquest jury last month found the shooting questionable.

Meanwhile a crowd had gathered outside City Hall during the announcement and several said Birk should have been charged with manslaughter. The decision against charging had been expected.
  
Williams' brother, Rick Williams, said he was not surprised.
  
"I kind of expected all this because of the way the system is," he said. He said that Williams represent generations of First Nation woodcarvers who have represented Seattle honorably. He complained that Birk had been glorified.
  
Birk's lawyer, Ted Buck, said this was not a criminal case.
  
"Police officers are forced to make decisions as to how to deal with those kinds of threats in split seconds and there are going to be these kinds of problems in the future," he said.

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz held a news conference shortly after Satterberg about the decision. Diaz said a Firearms Review Board reconvened and, based on an extensive review of the evidence and witness testimony, they concluded the shooting was not justified.

"Key findings from the firearms review board include: The use of a firearm was not necessary, John T. Williams did not pose a threat of serious harm to the officers or others, reasonable and effective alternatives to the use of a firearm appeared to exist," said Diaz.

Diaz said the Firearms Review Board concluded Birk did not follow his training when engaging Williams and his decision to use deadly force did not conform to department policy. Birk has been stripped of his authority as an officer.

Diaz has ordered the Director of the Office of Professional Accountability, Kathryn Olson, to quickly move forward with the investigation, to be completed by mid-March.

"I cannot stress how important it is - a man is dead," said Diaz. "We owe it to him, we owe it to his family, to not just do this quickly, but to do it right."

Mayor Mike McGinn spoke shortly after Diaz. He acknowledged Williams' death as a tragedy and the community's growing mistrust of the police force. He said under city laws, city leaders cannot take any disciplinary action in Birk's employment until the inquest and any criminal proceedings are finished.

"I know the public finds the lack of action frustrating. So do I," said McGinn.

The Office Of Professional Accountability will next review Birk's case; Birk then will meet with Police Chief Diaz, who will decide any disciplinary action against Birk. The process will take about two weeks.

"To the family, to the community, to the citizens of Seattle, I'm deeply sorry for this tragedy," said McGinn. "And I'm deeply sorry for the loss of faith between our community and  our police force. I will do all in my power to restore it."

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