Extraordinary meeting followed carver's fatal shooting by Seattle officer
Only weeks after a Seattle police officer's fatal shooting of John T. Williams, Police Chief John Diaz and top department officials went to extraordinary lengths to resolve differences with the grieving family of the First Nations woodcarver, according to a newly disclosed document outlining the efforts.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz will be among the panelists at a forum on police accountability Thursday night. Rich O'Neill, who heads the police union, is also scheduled to attend, as are City Councilmember Tim Burgess, Office of Professional Accountability Auditor Anne Levinson, and representatives of the ACLU of Washington, the Loren Miller Bar Association and the Seattle Native American Employees Association.
The forum, to run from 7 to 9 p.m., is being called "Police Accountability: Where Do We Go From Here?" The event will be held at City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave. It is sponsored by The Stranger and the mayor's office.
Two weeks after a Seattle police officer's fatal shooting of John T. Williams, Police Chief John Diaz and top department officials went to extraordinary lengths to resolve differences with the grieving family of the First Nations woodcarver, according to a newly disclosed document.
Among the steps that emerged from a Sept. 13 "Restorative Circle" was the appointment of a sergeant who had known Williams' late father — also a woodcarver — to be a "direct line" of contact with the family and to take a lead role in educating officers about issues arising from the Aug. 30 shooting.
Sgt. Fred Ibuki's cellphone number was given to family members to handle any problems they had, according to a four-page memo provided to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request.
The description of Ibuki's role in calming tensions comes as the department, on a larger scale, is pushing sergeants to help bolster community relations and prevent officer misconduct.
On Wednesday, Diaz told the City Council he wants his front-line sergeants to take a greater role in coaching the department's large number of young officers as part of an effort to reduce conflicts with citizens.
While Diaz didn't cite specific incidents, the department has come under fire over the shooting of Williams by 27-year-old Officer Ian Birk, as well as other use-of-force incidents over the past year.
In response, the U.S. Justice Department recently opened a preliminary review of the Police Department's practices.
The memo on the meeting between the Williams family and police officials was released after months of discussions between The Times and the Police Department over a public-disclosure request seeking correspondence related to the shooting.
Although the department provided some materials, it withheld a Sept. 1 e-mail to Diaz from City Councilmember Tim Burgess urging an outside investigation of the shooting, which was later obtained by The Times through a public-disclosure request to the council.
Since then, the Police Department has acknowledged its response was "incomplete" and said additional documents were forthcoming.
The memo on the meeting was the first of those documents to be disclosed, even though it was written outside the time frame of the disclosure request filed by The Times on Sept. 8.
The meeting with John T. Williams' relatives occurred after the department's initial dealings with the family proved unproductive as emotions were running high after the shooting, said Andrea Brenneke, an attorney for the family who proposed the idea of a "Restorative Circle," a concept developed in Brazil in the mid-1990s to resolve community conflicts.
The Sept. 13 gathering, in a circular conference room at the Chief Seattle Club, a social-service agency, was arranged to address the family's mistrust and fear of the Police Department, Brenneke and Kathryn Olson, director of the department's Office of Professional Accountability, said Wednesday.
In attendance were Diaz, department commanders, representatives of the Williams family and local Native-American leaders. All participants agreed to keep the meeting confidential, according to the memo.
"Address the fear"
Diaz wanted to "address the fear" of the family, which was still in "shock and grief over the tragic incident," said Olson, who attended the meeting in her role as the department's lead official overseeing internal investigations.
Although discussion of the investigation was off-limits, Diaz said Wednesday he viewed the meeting as an opportunity to explain the official reviews that would occur in a setting of "one person talking to another."
Before the meeting, Rick Williams, an older brother, and his son both had experienced what they felt were negative dealings with Seattle officers in the days after the shooting that left them questioning whether they could safely pursue their livelihood of woodcarving, Brenneke said.
Birk shot John T. Williams, a 50-year-old street inebriate, four times with his service pistol on a sidewalk near downtown Seattle, about four seconds after issuing the first of three commands to drop a knife Williams was carrying.
In a preliminary finding, the department determined in October the shooting was not justified, according to sources.
A court inquest into the shooting recently produced mixed findings from an eight-member jury.
Williams was a member of Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in British Columbia, which led to a pledge at the meeting that the department would consider better "anti-racism" training and develop a plan to boost cultural sensitivity, according to the memo.
As part of an 11-point training plan, Ibuki and a captain were directed to attend roll calls within three weeks of the meeting to teach officers what they learned at the gathering. Ibuki also was assigned to identify a cadre of other officers like himself to mentor junior officers.
Department officials showed a "willingness to restore trust however they could" and recognized "they were going to have to earn it now because it was broken," Brenneke said.
Another circle discussion, delayed in part by the inquest, is to be held at some point to check the progress of the pledges, and Rick Williams and Diaz are working to arrange a private meeting, Brenneke and Olson said.
In his appearance before the City Council's public-safety committee Wednesday, Diaz submitted a report in which he wrote that officers need to demonstrate their "skill in sizing up situations before a flash point" occurs.
The need for closer supervision by sergeants is crucial in a department where one-third of the patrol force has less than three years of experience in law enforcement, the report noted.
Burgess, chairman of the council committee, recently cited the need for more supervision by front-line sergeants and lieutenants.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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