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Support Police Accountability in Seattle

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On August 30, 2010, the late John T. Williams, a Native carver, (Ditidaht First Nation, also a member nation of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth), 50 years old, was killed by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk, 27 years old, on the corner of Boren Ave and Howell Street in Seattle.

KOMO News reported that Deputy Chief Nick Metz said Officer Ian Birk, a West Precinct patrol officer, was stopped at a light when he saw a man crossing the street with a knife and a wooden board in hand. "And he could see the knife - the blade of the knife, and he could see he was doing something to the board," Metz said. "The officer thought it was important to find out what was going on and why this person had in public an open-blade knife."

The officer got out of his car and approached the man, Metz said, adding the officer activated his in-car patrol camera, but the situation unfolded out of frame. The officer's microphone was on, however, and he was heard confronting the man and ordering him three times to drop the knife, Metz said. When the man refused, the officer opened fire approximately 9 to 10 feet from the man, hitting him.

Early reports stated that Office Birk claimed Williams had lunged at him, and he felt threatened, and that is why he fired his weapon. Several witnesses came forward with contrary statements. SPD later retracted their statement.

It was later discovered that the 3 inch knife that Williams was carrying was in fact legal; any knife over 3 ½ inches is illegal to carry in the City of Seattle. Other important facts came to light including:

• The knife was closed when found near the body.
• Williams was deaf in one ear and wearing a headset to listen to music when he was shot.
• Williams was arthritic and slow moving, he had not made any threatening move toward Office Birk or anyone, and he had not made eye contact with Officer Birk.
• Officer Birk had a weapon in his hands.
• Officer Birk did not identify himself as a police officer upon approaching Williams.
• Officer Birk fired his weapon within 4 seconds from demanding Williams to drop his knife.
• The City of Seattle Firearms Review Board investigation ended in a result that the shooting was not justified.
• Officer Ian Birk has been required to turn in his gun and badge.
• Officer Birk was a trained for the military as a member of the National Guard.

In the Inquest into the shooting, the jury agreed (question 6B) that the late John T. Williams did not have time to respond. In questions, 7 and 9a the jury indicates that there is evidence that Officer Ian Birk was acting outside his appropriate role as an officer on our city’s streets. And in 11, the jury, by its responses, show that the Ian Birk’s story in this case is not credible.

We are of the belief that the city’s police force should serve all the citizens of the city and be expected to increase public safety through de-escalation rather than contributing to hazards on our streets.

The J. T. Williams Organizing Committee is a group of allies that represent organizations and community members including those who have longstanding history working with police accountability issues and alternative public safety responses and new members of communities most recently impacted by police accountability. The committee came together to stand in solidarity with Seattle’s Urban Native Community and work cross culturally on an issue that deeply impacts all communities of color and other marginalized communities.

We are asking for your support by signing this petition directed at the King County Prosecutor. King County has never brought charges against an officer in the aftermath of an inquest and this is the first inquest that clearly questions the credibility of an officer's actions and testimony. Policies, procedures and laws protect the police unconditionally.

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