A grand jury found Wednesday that two Seattle police officers were justified in fatally shooting a pregnant, mentally unstable black mother of four inside her apartment when she threatened them with knives in 2017.
The six-member King County coroner’s inquest jury unanimously determined that officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew, who are white, had no reasonable alternative to the use of deadly force. The findings provoked an outburst of anger from Lyles’ father, who shouted profanity and yelled, “You killed my daughter!”
Officers testified that Lyles, who had threatened other officers with scissors two weeks earlier and talked about turning into a wolf, had been talking quietly to them after calling to report a suspected robbery when he suddenly lunged at one with a knife.
As the officers drew their weapons, Lyles yelled “Do it!” and cursed them. The officers repeatedly yelled at him to back off before shooting at him, hitting her seven times. The jury concluded that even if the officers had a Taser, it would not have been an effective or appropriate option as she advanced on them in the closed confines of the apartment, The Seattle Times reported.
Her crying baby crawled and climbed on top of her as she died, and a child came out of a room and said through tears, “You shot my mother,” officers recalled in emotional testimony.
Lyles was 15 weeks pregnant.
King County District Attorney Dan Satterberg released a statement saying he would review the evidence presented in the investigation as well as the findings to decide whether to pursue charges against the officers.
“The death of Charleena Lyles is a tragedy,” Satterberg said. “The details of the incident shared in the investigation are heartbreaking.”
His death sparked a storm of public protest and has been portrayed by advocates of police reforms as a display of unnecessary police violence and institutional racism by law enforcement.
Family members questioned why the officers, who had been trained to deal with people showing signs of mental illness or other behavioral crises, did not use non-lethal methods to subdue her. Anderson did not have his Taser with him (the battery was dead) and was later suspended for two days without pay for violating department policy.
When questioned by the family’s attorney, Karen Koehler, a Seattle police detective who helped review the shooting, acknowledged that officers had made no plans to deal with Lyles other than not letting her get behind her. from them.
Last year, the family settled a civil lawsuit against the officers and the Seattle Police Department for $3.5 million.
The investigation began after a years-long delay caused by reviews of the coroner’s investigative process. It included six days of testimony. Jurors were asked to consider Lyles’ death in light of the police deadly force law that was in place in 2017, which requires the officer to determine there was “actual malice,” a standard that changed in 2018 with the approval of Initiative 940 by the voters. , after prosecutors and lawmakers concluded it was virtually impossible to meet that standard to charge an officer with murder.
A grand jury can determine whether the police violated any policy and potentially any criminal law. But any decision to charge a police officer is made by the King County District Attorney.