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Originally published Friday, October 15, 2010 at 9:23 AM

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Officer's attorney: Shooting was justified under the circumstances

The attorney for Seattle police officer Ian Birk issued a statement, saying that Birk's fatal shooting of woodcarver John T. Williams on Aug. 30 was justified under the circumstances.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The attorney for Seattle police Officer Ian Birk says that Birk's fatal shooting of woodcarver John T. Williams on Aug. 30 was justified under the circumstances.

Seattle attorney Ted Buck provided a written statement in response to an inquiry from The Seattle Times, which reported this week that Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and the department's Firearms Review Board had reached a preliminary finding that the shooting was not justified.

In the statement, Buck, of the law firm Stafford Frey Cooper, said he didn't know of the preliminary finding.

Even if that decision has been reached, Buck said, " 'preliminary' means nothing' " and he added that the finding will not be final until after a court inquest is held.

Birk's shooting of Williams at Boren Avenue and Howell Street, near downtown, prompted critics to question whether Birk acted hastily.

Birk had stopped his patrol car at a red light and saw Williams carrying a piece of wood and a small knife that turned out to be used for carving.

Williams, 50, a chronic inebriate, did not respond to three commands to drop the knife, according to police officials and an audio recording retrieved from Birk's patrol car.

Birk fired four rounds from a distance of nine to 10 feet, according to the department, which originally said Williams advanced on Birk but later retreated on that statement.

In the statement, Buck said the review board "looks at the officer's action from stem to stern — radio contact, approaching the suspect, verbal contact, etc.

The goal is to assess the officer's work from a training and policy-compliance perspective.

"It is not, as I understand, aimed at assessing the propriety of an officer's resort to self-defense," Buck's statement said.

"A police officer is as entitled to resort to self-defense as any other citizen. The ultimate issue is the threat posed by the suspect; specifically, whether the officer reasonably believed he presented an immediate risk of serious bodily injury or death.

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"Officer Birk's response to the circumstances he faced was justified," the statement said.

Information from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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