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Originally published January 12, 2011 at 10:34 AM | Page modified January 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM

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Witness testifies Officer Birk 'more aggressive than I was expecting'

Under sharp questioning, Seattle police Officer Ian Birk on Wednesday morning defended his actions the day he fatally shot John T. Williams on a street corner.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The inquest into the shooting of John T. Williams by Seattle police Officer Ian Birk resumed Wednesday morning at the King County Courthouse.

UPDATE AT 2:49 p.m.: Witness Amy Gill testified that she saw a man — Williams — in beige carrying what she thought was a cardboard box or paper bag. She heard someone — Birk — yell "hey, hey," then heard gunshots fired at about the same time.

Deputy Prosecutor Mindy Young asked whether Gill saw Williams "do anything that you perceived as threatening?"

"No," Gill said.

But under questioning by Birk's attorney, Ted Buck, Gill said she could not see Williams' hands. She said it appeared that Williams was turning toward the officer when he was shot.

UPDATE AT 2:35 P.M.: John Hartsfield is the first witness to take the stand in the inquest into the shooting of John T. Williams by Seattle police Officer Ian Birk.

Hartsfield testified Wednesday afternoon that he was in a car on Boren Avenue on Aug. 30 when he saw Birk's patrol car with its lights activated. Hartsfield said the door opened and an officer got out and placed his hand to his side, drawing out a shiny silver object that Hartsfield assumed was a handgun.

Hartsfield said the handgun was in a half-raised position as the officer crossed in front of the car and made a hand gesture at someone out of Hartsfield's view.

Soon after he made the gesture, the officer raised his gun and fired what Hartsfield thought were four gunshots.

Hartsfield said he didn't sense "any delay at all" between the time the officer exited the car and when the shots were fired.

"I was shocked and surprised. He seemed more aggressive than I was expecting," Hartsfield said of the officer.

Under questioning by Ford, Hartsfield testified that the officer only stopped moving forward in the direction of Williams after he raised his firing arm.

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POSTED AT 1:41 P.M.: Under sharp questioning, Seattle police Officer Ian Birk on Wednesday defended his actions the day he fatally shot John T. Williams on a street corner.

Tim Ford, the attorney representing Williams' family, spent the third day of the inquest into Williams' shooting grilling the 27-year-old officer about the warnings he had given Williams before he opened fire. He also questioned Birk on whether he followed police training during their street-side encounter.

At one point, Ford asked Birk why he didn't warn Williams that he would use deadly force if he didn't drop the knife he was carrying and say "put the knife down or I'll shoot." Birk, who three times ordered Williams to "put the knife down," said he simply didn't have time.

"I did the very best that I could," Birk testified.

The questioning was in sharp contrast to Tuesday's session, when Birk testified that he feared for his life when he confronted Williams on the afternoon of Aug. 30 at the intersection of Boren Avenue and Howell Street. Birk, on Tuesday, said he had "no doubt in my mind that an attack was coming" when Williams did not immediately drop the knife.

Birk said Williams ignored three commands to drop the knife before he opened fire.

During Wednesday's cross-examination, Ford questioned Birk about the time that elapsed between Birk's first command to drop the knife and when the officer opened fire. According to a dash-cam video and audio from Birk's patrol car, about four seconds elapsed between the first command and the first gunshot.

Under questioning by Ford, Birk said he originally decided to question Williams "due to his unusual behavior" and because he was carrying a knife and a piece of wood.

Ford said this seemed contrary to the officer's earlier description of Williams. The attorney pointed out that in Birk's "use of force" statement — required of officers after they use force in the performance of their duties — Birk said Williams was "oblivious" and showed "complete disregard" to the fact that he was crossing the intersection in front of the officer's patrol car.

Ford read from Birk's statement to investigators and played the radio call the officer made immediately after shooting Williams. Ford points out that in both instances Birk reported the "subject wouldn't drop the knife," but did not mention being fearful of an impending attack.

Ford also asked Birk whether he was trained in de-escalating tense situations. Birk said he was and that he had successfully used the techniques in the past.

Ford again played the dash-cam video and audio from Birk's patrol car in which Birk can be heard yelling, "Hey, hey, hey," followed by three commands to "Put down the knife."

Ford then asked if Birk could point out "the places where you are not trying to be overbearing and intimidating?"

Ford asked Birk to demonstrate the "aggressive" move he said Williams made toward him before the shooting. The officer made a half turn with a pen in his hand to simulate the knife Williams held.

Ford asked Birk if he continued to move toward Williams after he ordered him to drop the knife. Birk said he did not.

Ford then showed the dash-cam video that shows Birk's shadow moving toward Williams after he began yelling at Williams to put the knife down.

Birk also testified that he was surprised to find that Williams' knife was closed after the shooting.

Birk said that after he shot Williams, the officer put his foot on the closed knife near Williams' body because he knew it was important evidence and for "officer safety."

"Did you think, 'My God, the knife is closed?' " asked Ford.

"It did surprise me having just seen Mr. Williams with the knife in his hand," said Birk.

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