No-Fault Police Murder in Seattle

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Former Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk was dismissed resigned from his job in February after the department’s firearms review board ruled that his shooting of John T. Williams was “unjustified.” While prowling Seattle’s streets last August 30, Birk saw Williams in a crosswalk carrying a knife and a block of wood.  Birk burst from his police cruiser and demanded that Williams drop his knife. No more than four seconds passed between Birk’s demand (it wasn’t a lawful order, because Williams wasn’t  threatening anybody) that he drop the knife, and the first of several gunshots fired by the officer. The entire encounter lasted roughly eight seconds.

Williams, an amateur woodcarver, had a troubled past that included alcoholism and occasional fits of improper public behavior. He was well known to the police as a “chronic inebriate.” In a video recording of an earlier encounter one officer is heard telling another that “I write him a ticket every time I can.” Williams was stopped by police several time in the days just prior to the August 30 murder. On one occasion, the thoroughly soused 50-year-old man, who could barely stand upright, can be heard bellowing what was described as a “threat” to kill “all you police force.” This “threat” wasn’t taken seriously by the officers, who simply shrugged their shoulders and let Williams shuffle away.

What this means is that Williams was well-known to the department. They were familiar with his alcohol abuse, and the occasionally unsavory public behavior that resulted from it. Officers had seen him carrying a carving knife and a block of wood on previous occasions. While he wasn’t pleasant to be around, Williams wasn’t known to be disposed toward violence, and in any case wasn’t physically capable of any.  Most importantly, was functionally deaf , which meant that he couldn’t Birks demand that he drop his knife, which was closed when photographed by crime scene investigators. It’s worth noting that one of the officers who responded to Birk’s “shots fired” report tells him, seconds after the killing,  that he did the “right thing,” despite knowing only that a fellow member of his coercive brotherhood had just killed a Mundane.

After reviewing the incident, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer admitted that Birk’s actions were “egregious.” Other police officials said that while Birk was right to make contact with Williams that day, he didn’t properly assess the risks of the situation and needlessly escalated the encounter. In any case, the use of deadly force wasn’t legally justified — which means that it was an act of criminal homicide. As we’ve seen on numerous occasions, contemporary law enforcement officers are on a war footing, which means that their default setting is “overkill.” It likewise means that they are functionally immune from prosecution when they commit acts of criminal homicide.

In February, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced that while the murder of Williams was “troubling,” no criminal charges would be filed against the murderer, because it wouldn’t be possible to demonstrate that the unjustified killing was the product of malice.

“A jury would be compelled to find Officer Birk not guilty,” Satterberg claimed. This should be taken as an oblique admission by Satterberg that he would have thrown the case if it had gone to trial. The state’s homicide statute recognizes that it is not necessary to demonstrate malice in cases where death results from criminal neglect. Furthermore, the relevant section Washington’s criminal code describes an offense called “homicide by abuse” in which one person, in “circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life,” causes the death of ” a developmentally disabled person”; although this statute was written to apply to cases in which mentally handicapped or otherwise dependent people die from prolonged mistreatment, a properly motivated prosecutor could find a way to convince a jury that the statute should cover an incident in which a police officer summarily executes a deaf, mentally challenged woodcarver.

Were a sanctified personage in a police uniform to be killed by a Mundane who displayed no malice, Satterberg would probably find the motivation, and summon the necessary creativity, to prosecute the case.

As is generally the case when the Krypteia slaughter a helot, the taxpayers will pay the price: The City of Seattle has announced a $1.5 million settlement with the victim’s family.

9:08 pm on May 1, 2011