Seattle Officer Resigns In Wake of Woodcarver Shooting, Lengthy Review

Crime, Law and JusticeSeattleLaws and LegislationUnrest, Conflicts and WarJustice SystemCrimeFirearms

In a controversial decision announced Wednesday, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says he is not seeking criminal charges against Officer Ian Birk, the SPD officer who shot and killed woodcarver John. T. Williams.

The Seattle Police Department reacted to the decision shortly after. Seattle Police Chief Diaz says, "I said in the beginning I have more questions than answers in this shooting."

Through an investigation, the Firearms Review Board says the shooting was not justified.  They say Officer Birk did not follow his training as a police officer.

Satterberg said it appears there were other options available to Birk when he chose to shoot Williams, but it is up to officers to make these types of decisions and they should not be held criminally accountable if it is clear that they acted in good faith.

Protesters against the prosecutor’s decision marched through Seattle Wednesday evening.  It became tense when protesters stood toe to toe with Seattle police in riot gear. 

The estimated 300 protesters let their feelings be heard as they chanted and shouted at officers. The march ended without violence.

The marchers were partly protesting the fact that Officer Birk was not held to the same standards as ordinary citizens. 

Satterberg noted in his remarks that Washington State provides police officers with more protection against criminal prosecution.

He said if his office filed charges against Birk, the prosecution would need to prove that the officer shot Williams with malice and without good faith.

"In order to prosecute officer Birk we would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted with evil intent," he said. "There is no proof of this."

Satterberg cited the Washington law (RCW 9A.16.040) that sates:

USE OF DEADLY FORCE BY A POLICE OFFICER
(3) A police officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section.

That law was created in 1986, and some, including Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, believe it may be time for lawmakers in Olympia to revisit it.

Bagshaw said, "the question is do we re-evaluate the language and the interpretation and at what point could a criminal charge be brought against an officer."

Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer with the Firearms Review Board says Birk went against police training when he closed the gap between him and Williams.  They say he even urged the woodcarver to come closer to the officer.

The Board also noted Williams' body position to Officer Birk at the time of the shooting was not threatening to the officer. 

The Firearms Review Board's final recommendation is to strip Officer Birk of his duties as a Seattle Police officer. 

Click here to read the full report: 'Final Report and Recommendations, Firearms Review Board'

Though the ultimate decision belonged to Seattle Police Chief Diaz, Officer Birk decided to resign just a few hours after the Chief spoke.

Even though Birk is no longer a Seattle police officer, the officer of Professional Accountability investigation will continue and if there's a recommendation for discipline, Chief Diaz says it will be kept on file.

The Department of Justice is also investigating this case and what some critics call a pattern of brutality from Seattle Police.

The DOJ met with local community groups Wednesday and plans to meet with Seattle city officials next.

It is possible that Birk could end up with some criminal civil rights charges out of that investigation, however that is uncommon in these types of cases.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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