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Fatal Police Shooting Creates Shake-Up at Seattle Department

Fatal Police Shooting Creates Shake-Up at Seattle Department

Seattle Police Deputy Chief Nick Metz was given the newly created duty of overseeing community relations. At left is Mayor Mike McGinn, at right is Police Chief John Diaz.

The Seattle Times via YellowBrix

September 16, 2010

SEATTLE – The sudden events that led Seattle police Officer Ian Birk to fatally shoot a First Nations man on Aug. 30 lasted only a few moments.

But reverberations from the confrontation prompted the Seattle Police Department on Wednesday to announce changes that could be felt for years.

At a news briefing punctuated by pointed questions from community activists, Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz laid out an ambitious plan to fundamentally alter the department’s culture by requiring officers to deal more closely with the public and recognize differing backgrounds.

“Our goal is to do it right 100 percent of the time,” pledged Diaz, who was named chief last month after serving as interim chief since last year.

Saying he was putting his “stamp on what I expect from the officers,” Diaz announced a major shake-up in the duties of the department’s captains as part of an effort to bolster officer training and community relations.

Acting Deputy Chief Nick Metz was promoted to a permanent position as one of two deputy chiefs and given the additional newly created duty of overseeing community relations.

Nine captains will take on new roles to carry out what Diaz described as the priorities of fighting crime, reducing fear and a heightened emphasis on building community relations.

Diaz also said the department was prepared to submit its complete investigation of the shooting of totem carver John T. Williams to two major police departments outside the region for peer review. He said the criteria are that the agencies be comparable to or larger in size than Seattle’s department and be recognized on a national level for thorough major-crimes investigations.

“The scope of this review will be to examine every facet of the department’s investigation and determine if there are any gaps, omissions, inconsistencies or investigative requirements that were unmet,” Diaz said in a written statement.

The outside review would be completed before an inquest jury is impaneled to decide if Birk’s use of lethal force was justified.

Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess, the chair of the council’s public-safety committee, who called last week for an outside review, praised the series of steps ordered by Diaz.

“What Chief Diaz did moves … us in the right direction,” Burgess said in a written statement. “We have a lot of work to do and we’ll keep at it for the sake of our city and our officers.”

Williams, 50, was shot on a sidewalk at the intersection of Boren Avenue and Howell Street after Birk apparently stopped him because he was carrying a stick and a small folding knife he used for carving.

Witnesses said Birk, 27, who has been an officer for two years, ordered Williams three times to drop the knife before he fired at least four rounds from a distance of about 9 feet, according to police accounts.

Police initially said the homeless man advanced on the officer, but they later retreated from that statement.

The shooting prompted witnesses and Williams’ friends to question whether the well-known public inebriate posed any threat to the officer. Critics also have asked why Birk didn’t wait for backup from other officers.

At Wednesday’s briefing, Diaz said he couldn’t comment on details of the shooting while the matter is under investigation.

But Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer, who will oversee a Firearms Review Board review of the shooting beginning Oct. 4, revealed that the department has interviewed 16 witnesses as part of an extensive investigation.

The shooting followed two highly publicized cases in which a white male officer punched a black 17-year-old girl in a jaywalking incident and two officers stomped a prone Latino man, with one officer using ethnically inflammatory language.

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  • Snocountyanniversary_2_max50


    over 3 years ago



    I would like to speak of my 2 cents here regarding the tragic event on August 30th, 2010, which took place in the City of Seattle and just say for myself who is a law abiding citizen supports the King County Prosecutors decision to be made in removing Ian Birk to face any criminal charges. One thing is for sure, it's easy for us who are not in Law Enforcement to point fingers and hear the media drum up all kinds of angles to persuade someones decision, but I also know when it's all said and done, their has to be good reason to justify not charging Ian Birk with any wrong judgement made on that late afternoon, which I remember distinctly. I support Law Enforcement 100% for many reasons, one I have many friends; including on this site who are good friends of mine. I also know from a civilian standpoint not involved in the case we are only hearing one side of the story and not both sides, which in any event you never take one side, so it would make me believe the officer was within his department guidelines and acted in a lawful and appropriate manner when confronting John T. Williams in what was described as the knife blade being extended going toward Ian Birk on August 30, 2010.

  • Anonymous-killer-whale-232189_1__max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I agree with those of you who maintain 9 feet was too close to allow the subject to be to the officer. Being referred to as a "public inebriate" in the story is also very telling about the subject's state of being.

  • 100_7432_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Until training, equipment and appropriate protocols are installed into a police service/dept then the coal face members running the show will have to continue to do the best they can with what they have.
    Here in my lot in life - South Aust. Police - we're only now just signing off on ECD's, (or Tazers), but even only then they'll be carried in the cars ONLY and deployed if the bad guy is "ARMED".. Politics is the same the world over.
    Stand tall, Go well and God Bless all....

  • Justice-400_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I've heard mixed details about this shooting. He was advancing, he wasn't advancing, he was on meth, he was sober, etc. I'm waiting for the investigation to be completed and details released before I pass any sort of judgment. One thing is for sure though; armed with a knife and nine feet away is dangerously close.

  • Uniphone1_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Sounds like a thorough investigation was done. Especially if they are willing to allow peer agencies to look at it. I like that idea rather than a civilian review. I think they are responding more to community and civic outrage though. I'd feel better if ABOVE ALL, acknowledged (and stressed) the extreme danger that the officer was in at the time. But I'm sure there is so much more to know about this incident. I hope it all works out for the officer....

    "Stay in the Fight"

  • Big_bad_pig_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I agree Grant. Even if he was the nicest guy in the world, today might be the day he's not going to jail again. Carry on.

  • My_kids_027_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I understand that change is warranted in all departments the way things we deal with are changing. But one thing I'm getting from this is that they are indirectly saying that this officer acted inappropriately. I don't know all of the exact specifics of this case, but i can say that if someone comes at me with a knife they will more than likely be shot way before they get within nine feet of me. I don't know how other states train, but it is a known fact that a man can stab you from 21 feet away before you can draw your weapon and fire. Nine feet, give the guy credit it seems to me that he went above and beyond trying not to have to shoot him.

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