SPD to release dash-cam video in fatal shooting of woodcarver
A King County judge ordered video from the patrol car of Officer Ian Birk made public. It will be released Friday afternoon.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A King County judge on Thursday ordered the release of a dashboard-camera video from the patrol car of Seattle police Officer Ian Birk, recorded at the time he fatally shot woodcarver John T. Williams.
Williams and Birk can be seen on the video moments before the shooting. But the shooting occurred off camera because of the position of Birk's patrol car, although audio of the confrontation was recorded.
King County District Judge Arthur Chapman, who has been assigned to oversee an inquest into the shooting, released the previously confidential video during a pre-inquest hearing. He ordered the video to be released at 1 p.m. Friday, giving prosecutors time to contact witnesses who will be called to testify during the inquest.
Addressing concerns that witnesses might be influenced by watching the video, Chapman told Senior Deputy Prosecutor Melinda Young to instruct the witnesses to not view the video on the Internet, television or by other means.
Chapman said he ordered the release to assure an "open and thorough airing" of the circumstances of the shooting.
Initially, the video was to be first shown to a six-member jury at the inquest scheduled to begin Jan. 10.
But the Williams family, The Seattle Times and KING-TV requested that the video be released after the attorney for the family privately submitted it to the judge last month as part of pre-inquest proceedings. Still frames from the video were publicly disclosed at the time the video was provided to Chapman.
Chapman issued an order Dec. 7 granting the request, and on Thursday rejected a motion by Birk's attorney, Ted Buck, to reconsider his decision.
Buck had maintained, among other things, that releasing the video would prejudice potential jurors before the inquest. His co-counsel, Evan Bariault, argued that witnesses might be unduly influenced if they viewed the video.
The Times argued that a fair jury can be selected in a large metropolitan county, and that witnesses could be questioned about their knowledge of the case.
Birk, 27, has said he stopped Williams because he was carrying an open-bladed knife and a piece of wood while walking across the intersection of Boren Avenue and Howell Street on Aug. 30. Birk said he fired when Williams didn't respond to three commands to drop the knife. Williams, a First Nations member in Canada, was struck by four bullets.
Birk fired four seconds after issuing the first command to drop the knife, Tim Ford, the attorney for the Williams' family, disclosed last month after reviewing the video and listening to its audio.
Birk, in a written statement the day of the shooting, said he feared for his life.
Some witnesses told police that Williams, 50, did not act in a threatening manner and wasn't facing Birk, according to court filings of their statements.
Before confronting Williams, Birk told dispatch he was going out of service on a "shake" — a pedestrian stop — at Boren and Howell, according to a previously released recording. Twenty-eight seconds later, he announced, "Shots fired ... The subject wouldn't drop the knife."
The Police Department's Firearms Review Board and Chief John Diaz reached a preliminary finding in October that the shooting was not justified, according to sources familiar with the investigation. The board and Diaz will make a final determination after the inquest is completed.
Buck has said the shooting was justified.
Williams, a chronic street inebriate in Seattle, was a member of Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations in British Columbia. His family has said the knife he was carrying was used for carving.
Seattle Times reporter Jennifer Sullivan and Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which contains information from Seattle Times archives.
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