Second outside review mostly backs Seattle police investigation into carver's fatal shooting
A second review by an outside law-enforcement agency has found that the Seattle Police Department conducted a fair and thorough investigation into the fatal shooting of woodcarver John T. Williams by Officer Ian Birk.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A second review by an outside law-enforcement agency has found that Seattle police conducted a fair and thorough investigation into the fatal shooting of woodcarver John T. Williams by Officer Ian Birk.
The peer review by the Austin, Texas, Police Department determined that the Seattle Police Department worked hard to "produce the most accurate and complete investigation possible."
The unidentified Austin reviewers praised Seattle investigators for allowing witnesses to talk about what they saw "in their own words without asking leading or prejudicial questions" and for photographing a re-enactment of the shooting.
The authors faulted Seattle police investigators for failing to take fingerprints and DNA from Williams' knife before it was analyzed and tested at a crime lab. "It is unlikely these items would be obtained after extensive handling during laboratory testing," the review found.
Austin police reviewers also suggested that investigators should have evaluated the radio and ear buds found on Williams after he was shot by Birk on Aug. 30 at Boren Avenue and Howell Street.
"This presence of this radio could create a question as to whether or not Williams heard Officer Birk's command to drop the knife. Prior to this review, the radio was not evaluated and its status at the time of the shooting was not ascertained," the review wrote.
Family members had originally said that Williams was hard of hearing and that he might have had ear buds in his ears that further compromised his ability to hear Birk's commands.
However, testimony at the inquest indicated that the radio found in Williams' pocket was switched off when he was killed.
"This will never silence our critics," Assistant Chief Jim Pugel said in an interview. "However, the detectives, supervisors and commanders are somewhat fortified by the comments about how thorough, complete, accurate, timely and unbiased the investigation was."
Birk, 27, shot Williams four times during a brief sidewalk confrontation. Williams, 50, a street inebriate and member of Canada's First Nations people, was carrying a knife and a flat piece of wood.
A similar peer review into the Seattle police investigation was conducted by a San Diego Police Department homicide commander and released last week.
The reviews — in which the outside departments were explicitly asked to refrain from commenting on the shooting itself — were requested by Seattle police Chief John Diaz in the fall.
Like Austin, the San Diego review concluded that SPD homicide investigators essentially conducted an unbiased and thorough investigation.
The San Diego review, however, faulted the department for conducting too many witness interviews by phone and for initially releasing inaccurate information saying that Williams had advanced on Birk with a knife before the shooting.
The Seattle police investigation into the shooting was used by the department's Firearms Review Board, which tentatively found in October that the shooting was not justified, according to sources.
The results of the investigation also played a key role in the inquest last month that ended with mixed findings.
A decision on whether to charge Birk criminally in the shooting is expected from the King County Prosecuting Attorney later this month.
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
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