Woodcarver fatal shooting not justified, says Seattle Police board

Feb 16, 2011

The shooting death of a Native American woodcarver by a Seattle police officer last summer was not justified. That’s the finding announced by the police department’s Firearms Review Board today. 

The review found Officer Ian Birk took actions that were "outside of policy, tactics and training."

The case is “among the most egregious failings that I’ve seen in my thirty years with the Seattle Police Department,” said the board chairman, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer.

The review board says Officer Birk was justified in stopping Williams to investigate whether Williams' behavior posed a threat to the public or himself.

But the board found Birk created the situation where he perceived he had to fire to defend himself by failing to:

  • Properly identify himself as a police officer
  • Properly assess the potential risks of making contact and call for backup
  • Give clear instructions to Williams
  • Adhere to guidelines of staying 21-feet away from an armed person

Kimerer said Williams' actions did not meet the criteria for justifying use of deadly force.

Birk now has two more opportunities to defend his actions before he can be fired – before the police departments’s  Office of Professional Accountability and, finally Chief John Diaz.

Earlier in the day, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said  he will not file a criminal charge against Birk in Aug. 30 shooting of  Williams, who was carrying a knife and a plank of wood which he had been carving.

Satterberg told a Wednesday morning news conference that Washington law protects police officers from a homicide charge unless there's evidence of malice or bad faith.

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