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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Williams Inquest Day Eight: Jurors Doubt Birk's Version of Williams Shooting

Posted by on Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 12:59 PM

This afternoon—after seven days of testimony and eight hours of deliberation—the eight-member jury returned with their answers to 13 questions regarding the causes and circumstances surrounding the death of John T. Williams. The courtroom was silent as presiding Judge Arthur Chapman read the jurors' answers aloud.

Their answers, which were either "yes," "no," or "unknown" show that the jury had significant doubts as to whether or not John T. Williams had an open knife in his hand when Officer John Birk approached him. There was also doubt if Williams was a risk to Officer Birk at the time of the shooting, and if he had time to drop the knife—as Officer Birk ordered—before the officer opened fire. "Apparently, [Birk] thought people would accept his version [of events]," said Tim Ford, the attorney representing the Williams family. "But it didn't turn out that way."

Their answers to these key questions were particularly striking:

6. Did Officer Birk order John T. Williams to put the knife down?
All eight answered yes.

If your answer to question 6 was yes, please answer the following questions:
6a. Did Officer Birk order John T. Williams to put the knife down more than once?
Again, all eight answered yes.

6b. Did John T. Williams have sufficient time to put the knife down after Officer Birk's order?
One answered yes, four answered no, three answered unknown

9.When Officer Birk fired his weapon, did John T. Williams have a knife in his hand?
Eight answered yes.

9a. If yes, was John T. Williams blade open when Officer Birk fired his weapon?
Four answered no, four answered unknown

10. Did Officer Birk believe that John T. Williams posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Officer Birk at the time Officer Birk fired his weapon?
Four answered yes, four answered unknown

11. Based on the information available at the time Officer Birk fired his weapon, did John T. Williams then pose an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Officer Birk?
One answered yes, four no, three unknown

The jury unanimously answered "yes" to almost every other question, but these particular answers are significant because they show that Officer Birk failed to convince a majority of the jurors that his version of events was accurate.

Birk was the only (living) eyewitness to the entire encounter between himself and Williams. On top of that, he’s a trained professional. Unlike the other questions, these questions almost force the jury to choose between trusting Birk’s testimony or rejecting it. Because when it comes right down to it, Birk’s testimony is the only evidence we have that Williams blade was open when he turned around. Similarly, Birk’s testimony as a professional police officer is the only proof we have that Williams was an imminent threat. He failed to convince a jury that Williams had an open knife, had ample time to put it down, and posed an imminent threat to himself. He failed to convince them that he was doing his job correctly.

"I'm finally able to get some sleep," said Rick Williams, the elder brother of the deceased Williams. "It's a heavy load I've been carrying."

As I mentioned earlier today, it's now King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg's decision whether or not to press criminal charges against Birk for Williams' death.

Full questions and jury answers after the jump.

1. On August 30, 2010, did Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk observe John T. Williams crossing the street?
Eight YES

2. Was John T. Williams holding an open knife at the time he was first observed by Officer Birk?
Eight YES

3. Did Officer Birk get out of his patrol car to contact Williams?
Eight YES

4. Did Officer Birk gesture to John T. Williams to come back to Officer Birk's location?
Seven YES, one UKNOWN

5. Did John T. Williams have a knife in his hand when Officer Birk contacted him?
Eight YES

6. Did Officer Birk order John T. Williams to put the knife down?
Eight YES

If your answer to question 6 was yes, please answer the following questions:
6a. Did Officer Birk order John T. Williams to put the knife down more than once?
Eight YES

6b. Did John T. Williams have sufficient time to put the knife down after Officer Birk's order?
One YES, four NO, three UNKNOWN

6c. Did John T. Williams try to put the knife down after Officer Birk's order?
Eight UNKNOWN

6d. Did John T. Williams put the knife down before Officer Birk began to fire his weapon?
Eight NO

7. Was the front of John T. Williams' upper body partially turned towards Officer Birk when Officer Birk began to fire his weapon?
Two YES, five NO, one UNKNOWN

7a. If no, was John T. Williams turning towards Officer Birk when Officer Birk fired his weapon?
Five YES

8. Did Officer Birk fire his weapon at John T. Williams on August 30, 2010?
Eight YES

9.When Officer Birk fired his weapon, did John T. Williams have a knife in his hand?
Eight YES

9a. If yes, was John T. Williams blade open when Officer Birk fired his weapon?
Four NO, four UNKNOWN

10. Did Officer Birk believe that John T. Williams posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Officer Birk at the time Officer Birk fired his weapon?
Four YES, four UNKNOWN

11. Based on the information available at the time Officer Birk fired his weapon, did John T. Williams then pose an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Officer Birk?
One YES, four NO, three UNKNOWN

12. Did John T. Williams die in King County on August 30, 2010?
Eight YES

13. Did John T. Williams die of gunshot wounds caused by Officer Birk?
Eight YES

 

Comments (39) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
1
now the rubber meets the road in the prosecutors office. get those pens and stamps out, people.
Posted by Randy Beaver on January 20, 2011 at 1:03 PM · Report this
2
The full list of questions and the answer breakdowns (yes/no/unknown) are at the Seattle Times.
Posted by Blech on January 20, 2011 at 1:06 PM · Report this
boxcar 3
6b: Did John T. Williams have sufficient time to put the knife down after Officer Birk's order?
YES: 1. NO: 4. UNKNOWN: 3.

this was a big one
Posted by boxcar on January 20, 2011 at 1:09 PM · Report this
4
Again, kudos to the Stranger for deciding to spend the money to send Cienna there for the full run of the inquest. In a time when it's so much cheaper to fill Slog with links from staffers who just surf the internet all day with the rest of us, it's been wonderful to have original reporting pop up here.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 20, 2011 at 1:14 PM · Report this
5
Officer Ian Birk. *
Posted by Sarah L. on January 20, 2011 at 1:17 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 6
@4, FTW!!!
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on January 20, 2011 at 1:22 PM · Report this
7
I don't think this result makes it more likely that Birk's going to be prosecuted. There's not a single question got a unanimous answer beyond the facts that aren't really in dispute.
Posted by UnoriginalAndrew on January 20, 2011 at 1:27 PM · Report this
8
I don't know what the law says about possible criminal charges, but I think we've established that Ian Birk is not competent to be authorized to use deadly force.
Posted by Don't you think he looks tired? on January 20, 2011 at 1:30 PM · Report this
9
Sounds like there is way more than a shadow of a doubt present. No way this is going to move forward.
Posted by snapfin on January 20, 2011 at 1:30 PM · Report this
DOUG. 10
I bet Birk walks on criminal charges based upon the answer to question 10.
Posted by DOUG. http://www.dougsvotersguide.com on January 20, 2011 at 1:31 PM · Report this
11
This has been really good reporting, thank you.

Really, they all agree the knife was open in the beginning? I thought that wasn't a sure thing? Maybe I missed that.

I don't know how these things usually go - in this kind of case, does the prosecuter usually not file charges if there aren't more unanimous answers? Wouldn't the bit about not having enough time to put the knife down have a lot of weight?
Posted by Patti on January 20, 2011 at 1:38 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 12
Wouldn't a criminal case, if brought up, be based on different criteria for an actual verdict versus this? And certainly different on the civil side--this is going to be wildly expensive to all of us.

Because of Birk's actions, each of us that live in the city is going to pay out of pocket on taxes for what he did if a civil settlement comes in.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on January 20, 2011 at 1:41 PM · Report this
13
I don't believe you can convict someone in America for 'unknown'.
Posted by John Smith on January 20, 2011 at 1:49 PM · Report this
14
Here's how I see it playing out. Satterberg will determine that he can't get 12 votes from a jury based on reasonable doubt to convict Birk of anything serious, like murder or manslaughter. Birk will be fired and perhaps tried on some lesser count like improper use of force or something similarly trivial.

There will be a civil case brought by the family that will be settled out of court for a high seven figure or low eight figure sum.

Posted by Mr John on January 20, 2011 at 1:59 PM · Report this
15
" civil case brought by the family that will be settled out of court for a high seven figure or low eight figure sum."

Maybe then they can pay the taxpayers back for everything mr. Williams sucked from us?
Posted by John Smith on January 20, 2011 at 2:10 PM · Report this
16
@ 11 - I don't know how these things usually go, but if Satterberg et al. don't think they can get a conviction, and the fact that these 8 jurors couldn't agree on facts that would be necessary to convict Birk means they have reason to think they couldn't, then it doesn't make much sense for them to prosecute the guy.

@ 12 - the criminal standard is proof beyond a reasonable doubt; the civil standard is preponderance, basically, that something is more likely than not. I'm not sure what the standard at this inquest was, but I'd guess it was preponderance or something in between preponderance (the lowest burden of proof) and proof beyond a reasonable doubt (the highest burden).

@ 14 - I think that's about right, although I think the settlement will probably be lower.

Posted by UnoriginalAndrew on January 20, 2011 at 2:12 PM · Report this
NaFun 17
The question that's missing is the most important I think:
Did Officer Ian Birk have any reason to exit his car and confront John T Williams?
Posted by NaFun http://www.dancesafe.org on January 20, 2011 at 2:24 PM · Report this
18
The money won't come out of our tax payments. The city (while self-insured) has insurance for issues like this.

He failed to convince a jury that Williams had an open knife, had ample time to put it down, and posed an imminent threat to himself. He failed to convince them that he was doing his job correctly.


It looks like Birk only failed to convince half the jury of these facts. Four jury members have doubts or don't believe his testimony. The County would be crazy to go to trial with this.
Posted by six shooter on January 20, 2011 at 2:27 PM · Report this
19
"Did Officer Ian Birk have any reason to exit his car and confront John T Williams?"

Known drunk with violent criminal history walking down the street with a knife out?
Posted by John T. Smith on January 20, 2011 at 2:32 PM · Report this
seandr 20
So, can we at least fire this fucker yet?
Posted by seandr on January 20, 2011 at 2:38 PM · Report this
21
@17 While I understand why you're asking the question, the fact of the matter is the police can confront anyone they want for any reason. It doesn't pertain to whether or not Birk was in the wrong.
Posted by Mr John on January 20, 2011 at 2:51 PM · Report this
Aaron Huffman 22
It's strange. If I had passed this guy on the street at that moment, with him whittling on a little piece of wood or whatever with a small knife, I probably would have barely noticed him. I certainly wouldn't have been threatened. Yet Officer Birk saw fit to kill him. There have to be some extremely serious consequences for this, right? Right?
Posted by Aaron Huffman on January 20, 2011 at 2:56 PM · Report this
23
@22 I wonder how Joe LaMagno felt when he passed the guy on the street with the cute little camping hatchet.
Posted by six shooter on January 20, 2011 at 3:14 PM · Report this
evolume 24
Don't fuck with the police! They have guns. They will shoot you. Duh!
Posted by evolume http://twitter.com/evolume on January 20, 2011 at 3:14 PM · Report this
DOUG. 25
@21: That's not exactly true.
Posted by DOUG. http://www.dougsvotersguide.com on January 20, 2011 at 3:33 PM · Report this
26
A little disappointed in this finding. I was hopeful that more folks would be able to see through Birk's rationalization with that thousand-yard-stare nonsense. I'd be curious to know who chose the questions and why they were so limited.
Posted by Valpey on January 20, 2011 at 3:49 PM · Report this
27
Other missing questions: Was it necessary or appropriate for Off. Birk to close within 9 feet of a person he believed was holding a deadly weapon?

And, was it reasonable, under the totality of the circumstances, for Off. Birk to fear for his life?
Posted by Citizen R on January 20, 2011 at 3:56 PM · Report this
Westlake, son! 28
The guy that answered Yes to 6b. is a dick. Probably answered the same to #11 as well.
Posted by Westlake, son! on January 20, 2011 at 4:06 PM · Report this
29
Thanks Cienna & the Stranger for coverage- your article on the police union newspaper "The Guardian" clarified a great deal. It is easy to see why SPD is having so much difficulty, when there are extremists on the force who insist on protecting rogue cops.

They reflect badly on all Seattle police. Ian Birk had no reason to exit his car in the first place- no law was being broken, the knife was a legal size, Mr. Williams was lawfully engaged in his profession of woodcarving. Citizens were passing by Mr. Williams without one bit of nervousness or fear. It was strangely, only Officer Birk who was fearful. He dealt with this fear by exiting his car and quickly narrowing the all important safe distance between himself and Mr. Williams, with his Glock already in hand.

He never identified himself as a police officer. Hey! Hey! Hey! Drop the knife! Drop the knife! Drop the knife! Four seconds til death, five shots, four of which all entered the right side of Mr. Williams' body.

There are video/audio recordings of this, as well as numerous witnesses who testified that Mr. Williams did NOT appear at all threatening to them. John T Williams had no time to respond before he was shot to death by Ian Birk.

There has been no information as to Ian Birk's possible PTSD, his possible use of steroids or his prior knowledge of and encounters with John T Williams. Let's be real here. Cops are human. Search this website & read the article about their newspaper "The Guardian". SPD needs a cleansing from top to bottom. It is unsafe for us all to let thugs with guns rule over us with impunity. I call on Mayor McGinn to step up, since it seems that Chief Diaz is unable/and or unwilling to do so, and reform the Seattle Police Department. As they are today- politicized and extremist- they present a clear and present danger to us all.

Birk needs to be charged. It is not acceptable to our society that "undesirables" can be murdered in cold blood on our streets.
More...
Posted by princessangeline on January 20, 2011 at 4:06 PM · Report this
BigSpinach 30
At the very least, this had better lead to a better SPD. Some of the information that came out about their training during this inquest (and a little from the Guardian articles) is rather shocking. It seems to be totally incorrect for an urban area like Seattle. I'm recalling Birk's line that the officer is trained to always go for his or her firearm. (I don't recall the specific wording) And the way certain officers perceive those who are unlike them in some way seems absolutely abhorrent. Especially for someone who is driving around in car with a bullet-proof vest with a semi-automatic pistol and possibly a patrol carbine and/or a 12ga Shotgun. I hope we get a more modern police depart that we can be really proud of.

I'm probably being optimistic though.
Posted by BigSpinach on January 20, 2011 at 4:15 PM · Report this
31
@27, those questions aren't allowed in the inquest process. They're strictly limited to answering questions about facts, and those are matters of opinion.

To convict Birk for murder or manslaughter, the prosecutor would have to prove that he acted with malice, which would be hard to do based on the facts as I've heard them (it's MUCH harder to convict a police officer for unjustified homicdes, see RCW 9A.16.040 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?…). It's too bad, but that's the state of the law.
Posted by Gidge on January 20, 2011 at 4:20 PM · Report this
Eric Arrr 32
@17, as @31 just said, the jury only addresses questions of fact. The legality of the stop is a question of law. In the coming civil trial, the judge will instruct the jury on the legality of the stop before the jury makes any decisions.

@21, you're dead wrong. Police can contact a person for any reason (-- it's called a "social contact" --) but they can't order the person to stop without an individualized, articulable, reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in a crime. Reasonable suspicion is a very low standard; it doesn't take much to amount to suspicious behavior. But a person minding their own business while carrying a legal knife is no more suspicious than a kid with a baseball bat or a mechanic with a tire iron.
Posted by Eric Arrr on January 20, 2011 at 5:04 PM · Report this
NotSean 33
Just a quick thanks for covering this story.
Good work Cienna.
Posted by NotSean on January 20, 2011 at 5:20 PM · Report this
Eric Arrr 34
@18,

The statement by Cienna which you quoted, and your reply to it, are an interesting illustration of where the burden of proof lies. Cienna wrote as though the burden of proof is upon Birk; your reply is a reminder that the real burden of proof is upon the prosecutor.

Like you, I'll be surprised if Satterberg runs with this one, given that he can't secure a murder conviction without being able to prove intent on Birk's part, and at least some members of this jury were willing to believe Birk as to his intentions. On the other hand, the jury's answer to 6b ("sufficient time to drop the knife") seems to suggest that Satterberg might have a provable case for manslaughter or some other lesser charge...
Posted by Eric Arrr on January 20, 2011 at 5:23 PM · Report this
35
@34 -
I think Cienna was trying to convey that, as a professional with a great deal of respect from the community, Birk still couldn't convince all eight jurors.

He didn't need to, but there is something telling in his inability. Can't fault her for playing to her crowd, either.

I predict (and this is just a prediction) the Williams family will move forward with a civil case. I doubt Satterberg will. If the Williams family convinces Ford to handle to case, I put even money on the city settling for low five figures.

I also expect the city to drag that family through the mud. We'll hear no end to rumor or innuendo about Williams past behavior. All this will have the end effect of further alienating the Native population in town. The civil trial will be a net loss for everyone involved.
Posted by six shooter on January 20, 2011 at 5:43 PM · Report this
36
officers are supposed to command a level of respect, courtesy and professionalism. ian birk has shown little, if any, of the above and should never again be referred to as 'officer ian birk'

douchenozzle ian birk sounds a little more appropriate.
i hope the memorial totem pole is erected in front of ian birk's house.
Posted by fuckspdmurderers on January 20, 2011 at 6:06 PM · Report this
pissy mcslogbot 37
If Satterburg does not bring any criminal charges forward and SPD stalls on decisive/forceful action against Birk, then, I feel that the civil judgments will bring about only some show pony & nominal change;

at the same time the SPD will continue to act and behave with their guild given impunity, and without any real oversight 'cause their "misdeeds" can be negated and paid for by the cities' insurance far into the future.
Posted by pissy mcslogbot on January 20, 2011 at 6:20 PM · Report this
Hawke 38
And all this points out exactly why the feds need to open an investigation into the SPD.
Posted by Hawke http://facebook.com/thehawke on January 20, 2011 at 8:18 PM · Report this
39
My opinion, admittedly worth very little, is that Off. Birk exercised bad judgement and made a terrible mistake. But he doesn't appear to have been motivated by malice, or have had the mens rea (guilty mind) necessary to sustain a murder charge.

Bad judgement directly causing the death of a human being, that sounds more like second degree manslaughter.
Posted by Citizen R on January 21, 2011 at 4:57 AM · Report this

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