Seattle Police Officer Resigns Over Shooting

Feb. 17, 2011
Seattle police Officer Ian Birk -- whose fatal shooting of a Native American woodcarver last summer was ruled unjustified -- has resigned.


Seattle police Officer Ian Birk, who fatally shot Native American woodcarver John T. Williams last summer, resigned on Wednesday after a firearms review panel ruled the shooting unjustified and the King County prosecutor announced that Birk would face no criminal charge.

The resignation -- first reported by KIRO 7 Eyewitness News -- took place at 4 p.m., said Police Chief John Diaz on the Seattle Police Department blotter.

Birk's resignation came hours after the Police Department's Firearms Review Board called the shooting "unjustified and outside of policy, tactics and training."

Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer, who was on the board, wrote that "First and foremost, as a result of these findings and recommendations, Officer Birk must remain stripped of all Seattle Police powers and authority."

Earlier in the day, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said he won't file charges against Birk in Williams' death.

Satterberg told reporters gathered for a news conference that state law protects police officers from a homicide charge unless there's evidence of malice or bad faith.

"What the state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that the officer was not telling the truth, that he did not really feel like he was in danger and that when he ... exited his car to go encounter this individual, he had every intent to kill him no matter what," Satterberg said.

Specifically, the law, RCW 9A.16.040, states that, "A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable."

Satterberg said the shooting is still troubling, and Birk could face a civil lawsuit.

"Anyone who's watched the dashcam video I think is troubled by the short span of time between the time the officer got out of his car, tried to grab the attention of Mr. Williams and the time that he fired his weapon."

A lawyer for the Williams family said at a news conference Wednesday that a civil suit was a possibility.

Watching the dashcam recording that shows Birk moments before the shooting, attorney Tim Ford said if a citizen had acted as Birk did, they would face a trial.

"Are you telling me ... a reasonable juror could not find malice in that behavior? Are you telling me if a citizen did what is on this videotape they wouldn’t face a trial?" said Ford. "It was not necessary, not justified, and it was egregiously wrong."

Mayor Mike McGinn, appearing at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, said, "I am deeply sorry for this tragedy. And I am deeply sorry for the loss of faith between our community and our police force."

McGinn said Birk has a final opportunity to speak with the police chief about his future with the department, but that the Firearms Review Board said that "Birk should never again carry gun, wear a uniform or return to duty as a Seattle police officer."

The Firearms Review Board decision announced on Wednesday allows the Police Department to begin internal proceedings that could lead to Birk's firing or other discipline.

The board reached the same preliminary decision in October.

Birk shot Williams on Aug. 30. Williams was holding a knife at the time, but questions have lingered over whether Williams posed a threat to Birk, or if his knife was even open when the shooting took place.

At the court inquest into the shooting, several witnesses said Williams didn't pose an imminent threat when Birk shot and killed him. A majority of the inquest jurors agreed Williams was at least partially turned away from the officer when he was ordered to put his wood carving knife down.

Susanne Chambers, who calls herself Williams' adopted sister, told KIRO 7 Eyewitness News on the phone that she was disappointed by reports that Birk won't be charged and wants the Police Department to at least apologize for what happened.

Meanwhile, community activists called for a mass protest in the streets near Seattle City Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

They said they believe the decision to not charge Birk will bring out hundreds of protesters.

“I hope that I see every single person who’s been following this, who’s been outraged -- everybody who’s seen that video who was disgusted -- to be visible,” said Stop Police Brutality activist Emma Kaplan.

NAACP Seattle President James Bible, who has been vocal with his opinions about this controversy, said the decision will have a negative ripple effect in Seattle police officers' relations with minorities.

A rally at Westlake Park in Seattle was scheduled for Wednesday from 6-9 p.m. A Facebook page for the rally said more than 120 people are attending.

Copyright 2011 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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