Angry protesters demand justice for slain woodcarver

Feb 16, 2011

Sage smoke, prayers and the beat of Native drums filled the air at Seattle City Hall Wednesday afternoon as several hundred people gathered to demand justice for woodcarver John T. Williams. Williams, a member of the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth First Nation in British Columbia, was shot to death last Aug. 30th by a Seattle police officer.

The demonstrators moved on to Westlake Park.  Later, several dozen marched to the crosswalk at Boren St. and Howell St. where Williams was killed by Officer Ian Birk.

From there, they walked to the nearby West Precinct of the Seattle Police Department where they shouted at police officers dressed in riot gear. King-5 reports there was no physical contact and they dispersed by 8pm.

Earlier, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced he would not seek criminal charges against Officer Ian Birk. A police review board found the shooting was unjustified and that Williams posed no threat to Birk or the public when he was killed.

Nonetheless, Satterberg says state law sets a very high standard for charging a law enforcement officer with homicide, and that the evidence in the case didn't support that charge.

Protesters condemned the prosecutor's decision, saying an innocent man had been killed and his killer would, at worst, lose his job. Some said the officer had gotten away with murder. They demanded more accountability for police officers who use deadly force.

In fact, Officer Birk resigned from the Seattle Police Department Wednesday afternoon. Police Chief John Diaz said the department's disciplinary procedure would continue and that any disciplinary measures decided on would be noted in Birk's personnel file.

They will also be sent to the state Criminal Justice Training Commission, which could decide to decertify Birk. That would mean he could not work as a police officer in Washington