Seattle woodcarver shooting case ends in $1.5M settlement

John Williams, described as a “master woodcarver” and “partly deaf” was shot by Officer Ian Birk of the Seattle (Wash.) PD—Williams’ family has reached a $1.5 million settlement with the city

A settlement has been reached between the City of Seattle and the family of John Williams, who was shot by Officer Ian Birk on August 30, 2010 in Seattle Washington. The City of Seattle has agreed to pay his family 1.5 million dollars.

Williams, described as a “master woodcarver,” crossed at a crosswalk in front of a patrol car driven by Officer Ian Birk. Williams did not appear to notice the squad as he continued up the sidewalk with an open knife in one hand “scraping,” a long piece of wood held in the other. Birk called out his location reporting he would be out making a “shake.” Officer Birk approached Williams from behind and shouted, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Put the knife down! Put the knife down! Put the knife down!”

Officer Birk later testified at an inquest that Williams turned with a “thousand yard stare.” Birk said Williams had a “stern, confrontational look,” and also that he had a “confrontational posture.” Birk demonstrated how Williams turned with the knife showing how the suspect appeared to be in crouch in a pre-attack posture. Birk testified, “I had no reasonable alternative, but to defend myself in that situation.” It is noteworthy that Birk was not one of the officers on the Seattle Police Department issued a TASER.

Officer Birk shot Williams, who died from his wounds. Williams’ family reported that the 50-year-old man was “partly deaf” and may not have heard the commands of the officer.

An internal Seattle Police Department firearms board determined, “The officer did not have probable cause to believe the suspect if not apprehended posed a threat of serious harm to the officer or a threat of physical harm to others.” Additionally the board decided, “The actions of the officer contributed to the need to fire.” The firearms panel was critical of the fact that in the seven seconds between the time Birk exited the car and the shooting, Officer Birk closed to within ten feet of the suspect and failed to identify himself as a police officer. Birk was in full uniform and had parked his squad with his lights on, before approaching on foot.

The firearms board unanimously concluded Officer Ian Birk’s shooting of Williams was “unjustified.”
Birk resigned in February after Chief John Diaz stated in a press conference, “His decision to use deadly force did not conform to department policy.”

The local district attorney chose to not pursue charges against the officer, because he determined the officer acted, “in good faith and without malice.” A Federal Prosecutor continues to investigate.

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