by Vee Hua 華婷婷
Last Updated on July 7, 2022, 11:48 am.
Content Warning: This article contains discussions of police killings, violence, mental health crises, and suicide.
Inquest hearings continue through July 6 around the death of 30-year-old Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of three who was shot seven times by Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers following a disturbance call to her home in 2017. Thus far, the hearings have provided insights into the timeline of the day’s events, actions of officers, firefighters, and paramedics at the scene, attempts to revive Lyles, and traumatic impacts on Lyles’ children.
Lyles had called police the morning of June 18, 2017, to report a burglary. Officer Jason Anderson was dispatched to the call. Dispatch shared an “officer safety” alert associated with Lyles — who, weeks earlier, had “produced a pair of long shears” during a domestic disturbance and burglary call; the report prompted Anderson to call for backup. Officer Steven McNew responded and soon arrived at the scene.
Upon entering the apartment, the two officers stated that Lyles pulled a knife and lunged at Anderson first, then McNew. Both drew their Glocks and fired. She was struck seven times, from the front, back, and side, and died quickly thereafter.
In October 2017, a department review cleared the officers, finding that the officers’ use of force was “reasonable, necessary, and proportional.” A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Lyles’ family against the City was dismissed in 2019 by former King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector. That decision was appealed and eventually reversed. The Lyles family was awarded $3.5 million in the settlement in November 2021.
King County is unique in Washington in that it requires an inquest jury be convened for every death caused by law enforcement. The Lyles inquest is the second of at least 56 pending inquests into police-related deaths in the county. County Executive Dow Constantine halted the inquest in 2018, following complaints from families of police officers who felt that the process was unfair and biased against police. Following a reexamination of the inquest process and the implementation of some changes, Constantine resumed them in June 2019.
Present throughout the Lyles inquest hearings are three sets of counsel. The Lyles family is represented by Karen Koehler and Melanie Nguyen; SPD and the City of Seattle are represented by Ghazal Sharifi and Rebecca Widen; and the involved officers are represented by Karen Cobb and Ted Buck. Nguyen and Buck have moved to remote due to testing positive for COVID-19.
For people who don’t have access or availability to watch the hearings, the South Seattle Emerald is providing this summary and links to view or review the hearing as a public service. This page contains a summary of inquest-related testimonies and will be regularly updated.
Wednesday, July 6, 2022 — Hearings Day 9: Jury Deliberation & Verdict
Find the video of the jury delivering their answers at https://vimeo.com/727606546.
Over July 5 and 6, six jurors answered 123 questions related to the facts of the day and whether the involved officers, Jason Anderson and Steven McNew, followed Seattle Police Department training policies when they shot Charleena Lyles in June 2017. As inquest administrator Michael Spearman instructed the jury on Friday, July 1, “The questions that you are going to be asked to answer are about how and why Ms. Lyles died, and whether the officers’ actions in this case complied with Seattle Police Department policy and training, and whether Ms. Lyles’ death was caused by criminal means.”
The jury deliberated and ultimately concluded that SPD was justified in the shooting of Charleena Lyles. The verdict was announced at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, after Spearman read all of the questions and responses from the jury. Some of note included:
- Two of six jurors were unsure if officers reasonably believed Lyles posed a threat to either McNew or Anderson before she pulled the knife; four believed that she did.
- The jury unanimously found that Anderson did not comply with 8.300-pol-3 under the Use of Force Tools Policy, related to his taser and taser training.
- Two of six jurors were unsure if Anderson and McNew’s actions were consistent to their training as to the Firearms section, 8.300-pol-4, under the Use of Force Tools Policy; four found their actions consistent to their training.
- The jury unanimously found that Anderson and McNew’s use of deadly force in the death of Charleena Lyles was justified.
While the verdict is not legally binding, it does play a role in helping King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg decide whether to prosecute the officers. Satterberg issued a statement, saying, “Charleena Lyles’ death is a tragedy. Details of the incident shared at the inquest are heartbreaking. My office had a senior deputy prosecuting attorney observing the inquest process. In the coming weeks, we will review all of the admissible evidence that was presented at the inquest and the jury’s answers to each of the interrogatories and make a final charging decision.”
Karen Koehler, counsel for the Charleena Lyles family, released a press statement at 6:20 p.m., stating:
“Charleena Lyles’ family rejects the ultimate findings from the inquest jury today. During the 7 days of the inquest proceeding a solid and unflinching blue wall justified each and every action of its officers. The process focused only on the officers’ states of mind. Not on Ms. Lyles. Despite requests for a fuller picture to be presented — including a forensic expert on the topic of her mental health — the scope was strictly narrowed. Ms. Lyles mental health was deemed irrelevant except for what the officers knew about her — which was not much at all.
“The family does not blame the jury for its decision. SPD’s policies practices and procedures are designed specifically to allow an officer to shoot and kill a person in mental crisis with a pairing knife. In those circumstances officers are not trained to disarm. They are not trained to wound. They are trained to shoot to kill. The message is clear: If a person is in a mental health crisis and has any type of sharp edged instrument, tool or weapon — do not expect them to survive if 911 is called in Seattle.
“Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four children with three at home, called the police for help, went into mental crisis, and was shot dead. The findings of the inquest are nothing for the SPD to be proud about.”
All of the videos of the inquest hearings can be found via KingCounty.gov and the Emerald’s daily summaries can be found below.
Tuesday, June 14, and Friday, June 17, 2022 —
Motion to Prohibit Inquest Livestream Requested and Denied
- On June 14, lawyers for officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew filed a motion asking King County inquest administrator Michael Spearman to prohibit a live video stream of the proceedings, and to restrict videos and photography of the officers “within and surrounding the inquest venue.”
- On June 17, Spearman ruled that video would be included in Zoom livestreams of the inquest. However, videos and photography of the officers was prohibited.
Tuesday, June 21, 2022 — Hearings Day 1:
Minute-by-Minute Recounting of the Police Call
Find the video of the first day of hearings at https://vimeo.com/723822384.
- Inquest administrator Michael Spearman set the ground rules, noting that counsel may fill out a form to call on witnesses of their choice, though he will ultimately make the decision as to who may testify. Furthermore, counsel are not allowed to inquire as to why certain requested witnesses are not called.
- Lead Force Investigation Team (FIT) Detective Jason Dewey was the first to testify. He said FIT investigates “officer-involved shootings, serious uses of force, and in-custody deaths; [they] respond to those incidents the day that they occur” by collecting evidence, interviewing officers, witness officers, and civilian witnesses.
- FIT is required to review all statements and available video or physical evidence within 30 days for a high-level use of force and 90 days for an officer-involved shooting. They then compile a report and send it to the Force Review Board at the City of Seattle, which reviews the case for training and policy issues. All officer-involved shootings sent to inquest use case information provided by FIT.
- Dewey presented details around the location of Charleena Lyles’ apartment and referenced the day’s “computer-aided dispatch (CAD),” which is used by FIT to establish a timeline of events. The CAD included Lyles’ initial burglary call to 911 at 8:55 a.m.
- The burglary call was played during the hearing; Lyles was heard telling 911 dispatch that the lock to her apartment was loose, following a trip to the store, but that she had not seen anyone enter.
- The CAD identified officer Jason Anderson as the first dispatched to the scene at 9:04 a.m.; he arrived at 9:15 a.m. Upon arrival but before making contact, he reviewed Lyles’ name and address and found an “officer safety” flag from June 5, where Lyles had previously drawn a weapon on officers; the situation had been deescalated.
- At 9:26 a.m., Anderson requested another unit to respond due to the officer safety caution; Officer Steven McNew was dispatched at 9:33 a.m. and arrived at 9:41 a.m.
- At 9:42 a.m., Anderson briefed McNew on the officer safety warning; they knocked on the door at 9:46 a.m. and entered the apartment. Both officers noted children were present but were unaware of a third child in the back bedroom.
- Dewey established locations of Anderson and McNew within the apartment, through visual aids and officer testimonies. Based on their statements, McNew was in the kitchen, inspecting meat loaf on the kitchen counter while watching the children “roll around”; Anderson was situated near the front door.
- Of the two officers who shot Lyles, only McNew was able to participate in a crime-scene walk-through, where he was given the opportunity to place down placards and detail his whereabouts on-site. Dewey was unclear why Anderson did not do a walk-through; the decision was made by the chain of command and not the detective, though Dewey believed Anderson was still at the scene. Thus, the placement of the officers was based on the recollection of only McNew.
- In 2017, SPD officers were not equipped with body cameras, but patrol cars had digital in-car video (DICV), which provided a front-facing, wide-angle view that was synchronized with police body-worn microphones. The patrol car angle was not beneficial for evidence, but a video was shown that synchronized video from the apartment complex hallway with the police body-worn microphones, though it was revealed that the original audio sync was about 10 minutes off-time, according to Dewey.
- Based on audio alone, at 9:49 a.m Anderson yelled, “Get back!” then got on the radio and called for backup. McNew yelled, “Taser!”, and Lyles was heard saying, “You can’t do that either, motherfuckers.”
- Anderson then replied, “I don’t have a taser,” and McNew got on the radio and said, “We need help; we got a woman armed with two knives,” and both officers yelled at her to “Get back.”
- Dewey’s investigation showed that Anderson was equipped with a collapsible baton and OC, or pepper spray, and McNew was equipped with a wooden baton.
- It was established that Lyles was 5’3” and 110 pounds; both officers were over 6 feet.
- McNew’s statement stated that, after Lyles “landed facedown” on the floor, McNew then yelled out to ask Anderson if he was okay, to which he replied that he was. Then, McNew said, “one of the little babies crawls out from behind and right on top of her … upper body, resting his head against her. And then another kid pops out of a bedroom that we had no idea there was any other people in … and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god, his mom’s, you know, lying on the floor, dying, and I yell at him to ‘Get back! Get back inside …’ and he ducked back in.”
- The next officer who arrived on the scene began CPR at 9:57 a.m.; the fire department announced their arrival at 9:58 a.m. but were seen on patrol car video arriving at 10:00 a.m.
- The second testimony was provided by Jason Stanley Abrahamson, current fire captain and paramedic for North County Regional Fire Authority, but paramedic student in 2017, on duty with the Seattle Fire Department (SFD). According to Abrahamson, the scene came as a surprise because they were not alerted as to “ongoing CPR” prior to arrival; services were delayed because SFD had left more advanced equipment in their vehicle.
- The paramedics saw firefighters already attempting life-saving procedures on Lyles in the hallway of the apartment complex; her clothes had been removed to treat gunshot wounds.
- Abrahamson assessed her for a pulse but found none; he noted “penetrating injuries” on her front body like “someone poked a big hole through her skin.” After they turned her on her side and placed her on a backboard, he saw wounds on her back. His patient care report noted that there was some bleeding from the injury in her arm, but he did not remember other active bleeds.
- Further life-saving procedures were attempted on Lyles, but after 10:15 a.m., Abrahamson testified that the on-site trauma director made the decision not to continue efforts. “Based on our clinical findings … the injuries that we had noted to be present — with the fixed and dilated pupils — there was[n’t] any neurologic activity going, along with no organized cardiac rhythms,” Abrahamson said, “and our distance away from the trauma center — we were going to continue to not have any benefit to continue what we were doing.”
Wednesday, June 22, 2022 — Hearings Day 2:
Police, Firefighters, and Medics Respond to the Shooting
Find the video of the second day of hearings at https://vimeo.com/723836981.
- Firefighter Richard Harrison arrived on the scene in response to “assault with a weapon.” Upon learning that the scene was clear, firefighters were able to go straight to the address, arriving at 9:59 a.m.
- At arrival, Harrison saw two officers providing CPR. He noted the location of the officers and Charleena Lyles, then assessed that there was not enough room within the apartment to effectively provide life-saving efforts. He made the decision to move Lyles to the outside hallway.
- Harrison’s team cut off her clothes and attempted to stop the bleeding. He testified that he did not assess her injuries until moving Lyles into the hallway, where he saw three “penetrating wounds”; he did not determine they were gunshot wounds until placing her on a backboard, rolling her over, and seeing exit wounds.
- Medics and a medic student arrived later and began to search for an airway, do chest compressions, and add an IV. They assessed Lyles “had no heart activity,” according to Harrison.
- Officer Erick Schickler, the first officer to the scene following the shooting, testified that he saw officer Steven McNew holding a child. He then went to officer Jason Anderson, who was outside the apartment door, with his weapon at “low-ready,” “holding cover … making sure there was no other threats we needed to worry about.”
- Upon entering, he saw Lyles — on the ground, face down — and a child on the couch. Knowing that CPR was necessary, his first priority was to evacuate that child and another in a back bedroom. Upon escorting them out, he covered the children’s eyes and turned them away from Lyles’ body, which they passed upon exit. He ran those children down to a neighbor, then went back to grab the third child from McNew and run him down to another officer.
- Schickler returned to Lyles and began chest compressions until the fire department arrived and took over. He said that Lyles was nonresponsive and had no pulse.
- Plainclothes Seattle police officer Kieran Barton arrived at 9:56 a.m., where he saw Schickler carrying a small child and Anderson still at the front door. He pulled Anderson into the hallway because he was “in shock” and “unresponsive.”
- Officer Gabriel Ladd arrived around 9:56 or 9:57 a.m. and passed Schickler bringing children out. When he arrived upstairs, he testified that he saw Anderson in the doorway, giving cover to other officers, with his weapon drawn at “low-ready.”
- He determined that Lyles needed first aid, but could find no pulse or breath. Schickler began chest compressions and Ladd attempted to open Lyles’ airway.
- Lyles’ next-door neighbor, Lhorna Murray, was jolted awake by the gunshots. She later called 911, and the calls were played to the jury in partially redacted form.
- Murray testified that an officer handed her Lyles’ toddler, who “needed to be carried”; she and Lyles’ children ran across the parking lot to a playground, where they waited for a long period of time.
- Law clerk Mary Ruffin, also a neighbor of Lyles, testified that she had grabbed a baby from the officers.
- Video from a police vehicle dashboard camera showed Lyles’ neighbors attempting to comfort their younger children. Police counsel objected, saying that it was “inflammatory”; it was overruled and the video was played without audio.
Wednesday, June 22, 2022 — Evening:
SWAT Arrives to Site of Inquest
The Seattle Times reported on June 27 that “Seattle police sent members of its SWAT team to the site of the Charleena Lyles inquest after one of the officers who shot her reported concerns over comments aimed at him last week when he walked through a group of her relatives following an emotional day of testimony.”
“Witnesses said some family members made comments to the officer, including calling him a ‘coward’ and a ‘pussy.’ His inquest attorney, Ted Buck, said McNew was concerned about what was said and called his sergeant. Two days later, two members of the Police Department’s SWAT team responded ‘for purposes of familiarizing themselves with the location in the event SPD may be called to respond,’” wrote The Seattle Times.
Monday, June 27, 2022 — Hearings Day 3:
Lack of Clarity Surrounding Where Charleena Lyles and Officers Stood During the Shooting
Find the video of the third day of hearings at https://vimeo.com/724703665.
- Due to the SWAT incident from June 22, the hearing began with a warning from inquest administrator Mchael Spearman that he would bar individuals from the hearings should further interactions take place between law enforcement and the Lyles family.
- SPD Sgt. Mark Grinstead showed physical evidence, including Charleena Lyles’ bloodstained shirt and down jacket. Grinstead was requested to lift up the jacket and display it to the jury so that they could see the entry and exit point of the bullets.
- A heated exchange took place between Grinstead and Karen Kohler, Lyles’ family attorney, over the lack of clarity around where officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew may have been standing when the shots were fired. Grinstead testified that he never spoke to either officer; Anderson never conducted a walk-through or shared his positions on-site. The uncertainty was further highlighted by CSI’s inability to pinpoint exactly where Lyles was at the time she was shot, as she was later moved.
- Shell casings from the officers’ gunfire fell just within the door frame. Kohler suggested that if Anderson had shot his gun from outside Lyles’ apartment with his arms extended, shell casings could have fallen within the door frame.
- Two knives were relevant to the shooting. A thin serrated knife was found in the left-hand pocket of Lyles’ jacket, and a paring knife was found on the floor of the kitchen, under a green sack. A sheath which fit the paring knife was also found in Lyles’ pocket.
- Three bullets were recovered during an autopsy, including in Lyles’ pelvis and buttocks. Additional rounds were recovered from the apartment walls or floor; some were errant and some passed through Lyles’ body.
- Kohler suggested that some of the bullets could have “struck a child in that room,” to which Grinstead responded, “It didn’t matter to the investigation. I recovered the bullets from the wall where they were.” Later, Kohler inquired, “Did you make any effort to determine whether the children were in the line of fire at any time during this incident?” and Grinstead replied, “No.”
- SPD tactics officer Leroy Outlaw testified that Anderson had passed a taser certification course and was issued a taser. The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) investigated the case, noting that “officers who have been trained and certified to carry a [taser] and have been issued one must carry it during their shift.” Anderson’s taser was inoperational for 10 days due to lack of battery, but he did not notify his supervisors or seek permission to carry alternate non-lethal weapons, as per 8.300 Use of Force Tools Policy.
Tuesday, June 28, 2022 — Hearings Day 4:
How the Shooting Unfolded and Forensics Evidence
Find video of the fourth day of hearings at https://vimeo.com/724703665.
- SPD tactics officer Leroy Outlaw returned for a second day. He shed doubt on how effective taser usage may have been in Charleena Lyles’ apartment, due to the distance between the officers and the “fast-paced movements” and “dynamic” situation.
- Lt. Dan Nelson of SPD’s Community Response Group offered a history of the officers’ crisis-intervention training and — using material from a training slideshow used by SPD — described some models and features of their crisis-intervention policies.
- The Lyles case was brought to the Use of Force Review Board while Nelson was on it. Nelson noted that upon responding to the call on June 18, Anderson had noted the officer safety bulletin and read a report from June 5, where three officers had responded to a burglary call at Lyles’ apartment. “During that incident, [Lyles] had produced a pair of long shears from the couch and began making nonsensical statements about morphing into a wolf and threatened the officers,” Nelson said, though he later admitted he did not recall the specific “threats.” The June 5 officers had used the couch as a buffer between them and de-escalated the situation over time, using an “open model” of crisis intervention, eventually “getting her to surrender her shears.”
- Officer Jason Anderson called for backup after reading the report; officer Steven McNew volunteered to join. According to Nelson, the two officers made a “hasty plan” upon their arrival. In line with their crisis-intervention training, officers responding to a call are to minimize implicit bias and act as though they are responding to a standard call — if no signs of mental or behavioral crises are present — even when a record of such may exist, as in the case of Lyles.
- Nelson testified that when they got to the door, the officers’ interaction with Lyles was professional and did not escalate; she walked them to where her video game consoles were stolen.
- The incident report showed that the officers noted Lyles’ hands going in and out of her pocket.
- Nelson testified that a sudden change took place when the officers noticed the “nonverbals,” including “a grimaced look on her face.” McNew said he saw a flash like “a baseball player getting ready to throw”; Anderson also said he saw a flash and when he looked forward, she was “slashing for him with a knife.” Anderson reportedly “sucked in his stomach and jumped back, while yelling, ‘Get back!’”, at which point, Lyles changed course and “moved very fast towards officer McNew.”
- Nelson offered his perspective that chances for de-escalation would have been difficult at that point; he had no recommendations for what the officers could have done differently, but determined their use of force as “objectively reasonable.”
- King County associate medical examiner Dr. Brian Mazrim examined the body at the scene and conducted the autopsy. He described Lyles’ gunshot wounds in great detail, including which internal organs were impacted and — as Lyles was pregnant — how her 15-to-16-week-old fetus was expelled into a different part of her body cavity.
- He testified that the cause of death was “multiple gunshot wounds,” and that the matter of death was homicide. The gunshots came from directions slightly behind, to the side of, and in front of Lyles, but none were made after her death.
- Mazrim identified two wounds as nearly immediately fatal, including the puncturing of the largest artery in the body. Mazrim believed that very little could have been done on the scene to revive her and that even transport to a hospital may not have been enough.
- Seven minutes passed between when Lyles was shot and the first CPR attempts by officer Erick Schickler.
Wednesday, June 29, 2022 — Hearings Day 5:
Controversy Over Inclusion of Mental Health Evidence and Policies Around Officer Use of Force
Find the video of the fifth day of hearings at https://vimeo.com/725494764.
- The hearing began with inquest administrator Michael Spearman saying that he would not allow categorizing of Charleena Lyles’ original call to police as “phony” or a “hoax” because it was inappropriate. Ted Buck, counsel for the involved officers, replied, “She made a phone call to 911 that provided false information that brought officers to the scene, and she subsequently attacked them. This is all part of the scope, fact, and circumstances surrounding this event.”
- Karen Koehler, counsel for the Lyles family, added, “Your honor, same with the spectre of suicide … you’ve stricken … anything related to her mental health. We have a witness; we did a forensic over here and now all that is out of the case and completely speculative. There’s no evidence that she wanted to do suicide by cop in front of her children; it’s just absolutely outrageous.”
- Buck then stood up and began to respond that there was evidence that of Lyles’ intent — to which Lyles’ father, who is in a wheelchair, pointed at him and yelled, “She was not trying to commit suicide! I’m tired of them saying that. My daughter was not trying to — commit suicide by no police.” He then broke down crying for a period of time, as the room took a recess.
- Upon returning from recess, Spearman mentioned that there was no evidence of why Lyles placed the 911 call on June 18, and that, “Nothing regarding any speculation about her motivation for the call should be called into question by either testimony or by comments by counsel.”
- Spearman also noted that all witnesses would need to be tested daily for COVID, due to members of the jury and counsel contracting COVID-19.
- The day started slowly, as witnesses were delayed and technical issues were rampant.
- The first witness, Lt. George Davisson, is an acting captain of SPD’s policy and research section, which drafts policy to “give guidance to officers on the expectations of how to navigate law as well as the expectations of the command staff.” At the time of the incident, he was the Force Investigation sergeant for SPD and the supervisor of detectives on the case, including Lead Force Investigation Team (FIT) Detective Jason Dewey who testified in the first hearing.
- Davisson detailed why SPD ruled that Officer Jason Anderson’s use of force was “reasonable, necessary, and proportional.” Reviewing the facts and taking the details that he knew into account, he believed that they acted within policy.
- Davisson again stressed that despite the officer safety caution on Lyles’ record, officers were trained to treat the call as though no mental or behavioral health crisis was present.
- In line with the previous day’s testimony by Lt. Dan Nelson of SPD’s Community Response Group, Davisson defined the formation of a “hasty plan” as an on-site plan for officers to get on the same page when they first arrive on a scene together. He described this tactic as common.
- Spearman asked Davisson about a “reasonable timeframe” to let a subject know about the presence of a firearm, under the 8.300 Use of Force Tools Policy. Davisson replied that there was no specific timeframe.
- Spearman then asked whether seven shots fired in quick succession would be in compliance with the 8.200 Using Force Policy. Davisson responded that, “We’re taught to stop the threat. If we have somebody advancing on us, then we fire our weapon until that threat goes down and is no longer a threat, so we don’t put a number of shots on it …”
- SPD’s Advanced Training Lt. Nathan Upton, of their education and training section, was last. He detailed the different kinds of training within the department, for new and old officers.
- Upton also shared the types of tactics used by SPD, including defensive tactics, which are “hands-on control that officers use when you’re actually in physical contact with somebody,” and general tactics, which is “everything up until that point.” He stated that both Anderson and officer Steven McNew took a 2015 training on “integrated tactics,” which was a combination of both, focused on “day-to-day calls.”
- Previous testimony from multiple witnesses had established that — due to the order of officers arriving on the scene — Anderson was the “contact” officer, and McNew was the “cover” officer. As Upton read from a training manual, “contact and cover” was a tactic supported by the FBI and Use of Force Review Board. It involves a second officer on-scene who takes on specific support duties.
- Contact and cover is shown to reduce use-of-force incidents, serve as an effective de-escalation method, and can “make officers’ jobs safer and more efficient” when each officer stays in their recognized roles. Koehler pressed upon this, because Anderson and McNew had swapped roles on the scene. Upton pushed back, stating that trainings are not policy or rules, and that officers “respond to calls together, and there are nonverbal handoffs that happen between officers.”
Thursday, June 30, 2022 — Hearings Day 6: Testimony From Officer Jason Anderson
Find the video of the sixth day of hearings at https://vimeo.com/726338681.
- The day began with discussion around counsel speaking to the media, with regards to previous reports around the SWAT team. Raised by Karen Koehler, counsel for the Lyles family, the comment was directed towards Ted Buck, counsel for the involved officers, who replied, “All I did was inform [the media] of the truth of the circumstances surrounding the incident.”
- Inquest administrator Michael Spearman replied by saying, “Mr. Buck, people have different versions about the incident. I’m sure you gave the version that you believe to be honest and believe to be the truth … but there’s always another side to the issue. I’m sure if the counsel for the family had given the same interview, it would have been different in significant ways. So I don’t know that it’s stopping the media from having interest in that story by giving one side versus the other side.” Spearman then advised counsel not to speak to the press — guidance he had not previously explicitly stated.
- Testimony continued with SPD’s Advanced Training Lt. Nathan Upton. Koehler ran through potential training scenarios where the presence of children may be considered; Upton said he was not aware of any.
- They then asked about scenarios related to “someone with a mental health crisis approaching them with a knife” and whether officers would be trained to respond with their batons. Upton stated that there was no scenario where they would train officers to respond to a mental health crisis with a baton. “If an officer believed that they could accomplish that and they were to use some other force, that would be their decision, but we’re not going to train them to use force that puts them at risk of being stabbed or killed. That would not be appropriate training for us to put on,” Upton said.
- Upon being questioned by Buck, Upton elaborated that with regards to the application of force and officer training to “stop the threat,” officers are trained to use force until they are “satisfied that the threat ha[s] stopped and it’s no longer a threat to you or someone else.” Relatedly, officers are taught to use that force only when a “risk of bodily harm or death to themselves or others’ is present; they are taught to “shoot at center mass” because it is a larger target that requires less precision and contains more vital organs.
- Upton reiterated that a baton would put one too close of proximity to the subject. He also said that OC spray, or pepper spray, would also be inappropriate due to the amount of time that it takes to set in and its occasional lack of efficacy on some individuals.
- Detective Jason Anderson of the General Investigations Unit — one of the officers on trial who shot Charleena Lyles – was a patrol officer at the time.
- Anderson said that when he viewed the officer safety caution from the June 5 incident with Lyles, he believed he only skimmed the narrative section. He’d learned that two officers had responded to the domestic violence incident and that Lyles had produced a pair of shears in “what they described as a ‘’threatening manner.’” He mentioned nonsensical statements about her and her daughter turning into wolves.
- Initially, Anderson said he did not believe there were “threatening statements” made to the officers, but then backtracked and recalled a conversation about Lyles saying something to the effect of, “None of you are going to leave.” Claire Thornton, Inquest Program Attorney (IPA), clarified by asking if the statement, “Ain’t none of y’all leaving today,” sounded familiar, and Anderson said, “That sounds correct. Yes.”
- Anderson was asked to read the entire incident report of the events that had happened on June 5. This included an interview with the Lyles family, who noted a recent decline in Lyles’ mental health. They were surprised that the shears incident had taken place with the officers and expressed “a strong desire to stabilize her mental health condition before it gets worse.”
- Video was played from Anderson’s dashcam camera, with audio synced from his police body-worn microphone. It began with Anderson relaying details of the officer safety caution to Officer Steven McNew, who responded to his request for a routine backing unit, then ran through the entire incident. (The audio was difficult to hear in the livestream recording.)
- McNew’s dashcam footage and audio were then played.
- Thornton asked Anderson about a garbled portion when Anderson and McNew were walking up the stairs; he did not recall the details of that conversation or if they made more details about a safety plan.
- Upon knocking on the door, Anderson introduced himself. He said that Lyles pointed in the general direction of the living room and mentioned video game consoles had been taken. She then transitioned them to walk down the back hallway; he recalled that she had pointed into a bedroom where another gaming console had been taken.
- As they were leaving the apartment, they let Lyles walked in front of them. Anderson said he saw Lyles had placed her hands in her jacket pockets but that she had brought them out empty.
- He recalled two children in the living room and that they were roughly in the same position when he returned from the back rooms. He described the apartment as cluttered but “nothing super unusual.”
- McNew’s video and audio then resumed from the point where officers were inside Lyles’ apartment. A shuffling sound was heard. Anderson identified it as the sound of him trying to avoid Lyles’ attempt to stab him by jumping back into a wall or door. Anderson identified a plastic sound as the sound of him drawing his gun.
- Anderson said that he had been looking down at a notepad, taking notes, prior to Lyles’ attempt. He said that the knife came within an inch of his body.
- He testified he followed training to get out of her “center line” and ended up off to the doorway area near the front entrance. He recalled McNew to be in the U-shaped kitchen, which Anderson could not see from the doorway.
- Anderson drew the firearm, pointed it at Lyles, and told her to, “Get back.” She did take a momentary step back — but Anderson said that Lyles’ then said, “I’m coming to get ya.” “In an instant, her demeanor completely changed,” he said.
- Listening back on the recordings, Anderson said he could now hear Lyles saying, “Do it, do it.”
- He continued to recount previously established details related to McNew yelling out taser and Lyles saying, “You can’t do that either.” Anderson said it was after he responded, “I don’t have a taser,” that he could see that Lyles’ focus had shifted from him to McNew, so he called for “fast backup” on the radio.
- Anderson demonstrated physically how Lyles held the knife and that he fired after she was rounding the kitchen peninsula towards McNew.
- Anderson determined that he “likely would have shot Lyles sooner, but her child was directly behind her, and so I waited.”
- “I waited until the last possible moment I could shoot before Officer McNew and I would essentially be in a crossfire situation, just hoping that she would stop,” said Anderson. “But she would not.”
- He didn’t know how many shots he fired but believed that it was four. As he was shooting, he heard shots from another direction, “almost covering each other up … almost simultaneous.”
- McNew’s video and audio then resumed. Sounds of gunshots, screaming, children crying, dispatcher calls, and scattered dialogue could be heard. (The sounds were noisy and barely discernible via the livestream.)
- “After the shots were fired, I was standing in the doorway, covering Ms. Lyles, meaning I had my firearm at low ready just in case there was continued attack,” said Anderson. “We were trying to figure out how to coordinate getting the kids out of the apartment. At one point right after the shooting, one of the older kids had come out that we didn’t know was there and startled me — was right next to me in the hallway, and he said, ‘You shot my mom.’” At this point, Anderson cried in the inquest hearing.
- Anderson then told the child to go back into the bedroom, though he didn’t know where he had come out of.
- The youngest child, which had been closest to her, “was screaming, crying, and had crawled over to Ms. Lyles on the ground,” he said.
- McNew stepped over Lyles body by warning Anderson that he was “stepping over,” and picked up the youngest child. Anderson said he had to position himself to peek around the peninsula in order to see the other child.
- Anderson and McNew were trying to radio out but it was “bonging” because the call “couldn’t get out” due to radio traffic.
- At the end of the McNew’s video, officer Erick Schickler could be seen running to the apartment; he was next on the scene.
- McNew told Anderson to “take some breaths” and “maintain your position.” Anderson said he was still holding cover at the low ready at the entrance of the apartment and saw a knife on the ground, which he believed was the one Lyles had been holding. He later identified the knife via a physical exhibit he pulled out within the inquest hearing.
- Anderson said he did not recall ever backing into the hallway, though he believed he opened the door after the shooting. He identified Lyles lying on the ground within two to three feet of him, with her head towards the peninsula and her feet towards the entry door. He could not recall if she was face up or face down. He knew that she was not moving but could not tell if she was breathing.
- Shickler got all three children out while Anderson was holding cover. Shickler also did a “hasty search” to make sure the apartment was clear and then started doing CPR; Anderson believed that he holstered his firearm at that point.
- Shickler, he thought, asked if anyone had a “one-way mask,” which Anderson handed off to either Schickler or another officer who had arrived by then, along with blood-stop gauze and gloves. He said he attempted to get his own gloves on to assist but was slow, as he was “in a bit of shock.”
- After Anderson got one glove on, he also handed off Bioclusive, which is “a sticky sheet of plastic some officers carry to seal up chest wounds.” He placed the Bioclusive over one of Lyles’ wounds, to help “seal up the chest cavity so she could breathe.”
- At that point, the officers who were arriving told Anderson to leave and that they would take over. He believed McNew walked down the stairs together, and that he met up with the acting sergeant after he left the building, to provide a brief statement.
- Thornton asked why Anderson did not do a walk-through that day. He replied, “I do not know; I did not make that decision.”
- Anderson believed that he was driven down to the office and then photographed. He said he was not asked to give a statement that day and was not told why he was not asked to give a statement that day.
- After a lunch recess, Thornton showed part of the CSI’s investigation from the day. Anderson was instructed to use a pointer to show the locations of Lyles and the child that caused him to wait to shoot.
- A drawing and floorplan were then shown, which Anderson identified as one that he had drawn during his fifth interview about the shooting. He was instructed to do a “demonstrative exhibit” to orient the jurors and walk through the events of the day; it showed the spacing in the apartment using the physical space within the inquest hearing room. Counsel moved away and the jury moved in closer to be able to see and feel the distances.
- Anderson then went back to the drawing and walked through the different positions he had marked representing him, Lyles, and McNew throughout the day.
- Koehler began her questioning of Anderson by asking, “How tall are you? How much do you weigh?” and Anderson responded, “Six feet.” (The weight was inaudible.) “When you extend your arm, how far does your arm go?” she asked, and he responded, “Approximately 3 feet.” He was then asked to measure it.
- It was clarified that Anderson had, at the time, only been working as a solo officer for a year and four months. McNew was a more senior officer, who Anderson had responded on perhaps a hundred calls with; McNew at times had acted as the acting supervisor of Anderson.
- Koehler asked, “Is that true that you at that point did not have training on how to disarm a person with a knife?” Anderson answered, “I believe so.”
- Anderson was exposed to training scenarios at the police academy where people with knives were involved. One of the mandatory training scenarios was identified as a situation where an officer is at a supermarket; someone pulls a knife and refuses to follow an order to drop it. Anderson could not recall and said he wasn’t sure that every training required a taser to be used.
- A long duration was spent on Koehler asking, “In your taser training, were you taught that there is a difference between how you should approach dangerous criminals and people that are mentally ill?” Anderson replied, “Without the context, I believe this would be discussing stigmatizing people.”
- Koehler asked whether the officer safety caution Anderson received had shown the words “mental” on it, related to a mental health crisis; he repeatedly said that it did not. Anderson said that during his deposition, he was shown a picture of the officer safety caution screen that displayed the word “mental” — but he said when you looked at the records, it was not accurate to what he saw displayed on that date, which did not include the word.
- “Did you see the mental caution on the screen, forget about it, and not tell officer McNew about it?” Koehler asked. After some confusion, Anderson said, “In my audio to officer McNew, there’s no mental.”
- Often using Anderson’s deposition to refresh his memory to the events of the day, Koeler suggested that the first time the officers made a “hasty plan” was when he buzzed the door to Lyles’ apartment.
- Anderson believed that’s when they said, “Golly, don’t let her get behind us.” He was asked if he was “chuckling” at that point, and he said thought it was maybe in response to McNew’s comment of “golly.” He believed the extent of their hasty plan was the comment not to let Lyles get behind them.
- Koehler asked, “What kind of a plan was that for approaching someone who, 13 days ago, was quote unquote, kidnapping police officers with giant scissors or large shears, who had little children and mental illness?” Anderson replied, “I understood that Ms. Lyles had been arrested, she’d gone to jail, and she had seen a judge that released her, and she was with her children now. And this was 13 days later; I wasn’t going to stigmatize her based on this previous incident.”
- Evidence from Anderson’s deposition noted that he had told the Force Investigation Team (FIT) that he never saw the handle of the knife and was therefore unsure whether the one he saw on the ground had been the one in her hand.
Friday, July 1, 2022 — Hearings Day 7: Continued Testimony From Officer Jason Anderson and With Officer Steven McNew
Find the video of the seventh day of hearings at https://vimeo.com/726338681.
- Juror #4, a doctor, expressed via written message a desire to know more about Lyles’ mental health status. The juror had a number of questions related to it and asked that witnesses be called who could address those questions. If those questions were not addressed, he said he would “respectfully resign as a juror, because unless he understands these issues, he cannot respond …”
- As a result, inquest administrator Michael Spearman reiterated that jurors can ask any questions or request any witnesses but whether those are granted are at the discretion of Spearman.
- Karen Cobb, counsel for the involved officers, stood up and said, “I think it’s important to direct them to the fact that the whole purpose of this proceeding is to find out the facts that’s for the officers’ actions and that only things that the officers knew that played into that are within the scope of the inquest …”
- Cobb called for clarity and provided evidence showing the differences between the screen officer Jason Anderson had seen as an officer safety caution on the date of the incident — which did not include the word “mental” in relation to Charleena Lyles’ mental health — and the screen which Karen Koehler, counsel for the family, showed during the inquest hearing, which did contain the word. Cobb was notably frustrated with the fact that she believed the family’s attorney should rectify the situation with the witness and not them.
- Ted Buck, counsel for the involved officers, contracted COVID-19 and began attending the proceedings virtually; he apologized for expressing his frustrations with technology during the hearing the prior day.
- Upon returning from a recess, Spearman reiterated to the jury that, “The questions that you are going to be asked to answer are about how and why Ms. Lyles died, and whether the officers’ actions in this case complied with Seattle Police Department policy and training, and whether Ms. Lyles death was caused by criminal means.”
- Officer Jason Anderson returned to testify again for a second day. He shared that after reviewing the layout and seeing the sketch of the apartment, he realized his own recollection and drawing had been inaccurate. He reiterated that his recollection at the time was that the front door was closed behind him and that he only opened it after he fired his weapon.
- Using a replica gun, Anderson was asked to physically demonstrate his position when the shooting was happening. He did so with his arms fully extended, and Koehler served as a stand-in for where Lyles may have been that day.
- Audio-synced video is played, showing a side-by-side footage from a patrol car and from the apartment complex hallway. “After reviewing the footage, do you agree that you were outside the apartment when you were shooting Ms. Lyles?” Koehler then asked. Anderson said, “From watching the video, it appears my feet are coming out of the apartment when shots are fired.” When pressed about his feet being outside the apartment, he continued, “Watching the video, that’s what it appears to show. My recollection was that I was inside the apartment.”
- Keohler then asked if “one of the important factors of de-escalation is the opportunity to have distance to move out and move away?” Anderson said that was important, “but it’s limited in this situation.”
- It was established that approximately 19 seconds had passed between Anderson yelling, “Get back,” and firing his gun. A timer was set for that duration of time and Anderson was asked to clarify that during that time he never asked for Lyles to drop her weapon or warned that he would shoot her.
- Anderson was then asked about the last time he saw McNew before he shot Lyles. He said it was before he had his notebook in his hand and was interviewing Lyles. He also said did not see McNew when he called for Lyles to get back; it was after Lyles was shot and on the ground that he could see McNew again.
- Koehler tried to confirm that Seattle Police Department does not train officers to “shoot to disable versus shoot to kill,” and Anderson reiterated that they are taught to shoot at center mass to eliminate the threat.
- Buck began his questioning by noting the discrepancy between the two versions of the officer safety caution. He clarified that the original version Anderson saw did not have the word “mental” even though a later version which was produced had it.
- It was shared that during the previous June 5 incident, Lyles had not raised the shears at the officers or attempted to stab them, and that there was no instance where the officers felt that they were unable to communicate with her.
- With regards to his choice to change his non-lethal weapon from a taser to OC spray, Anderson said he was not aware at the time that he was not allowed to swap it out with another item without permission.
- Anderson confirmed that officers are instructed not to use a baton in close proximity circumstances where danger may be present.
- Anderson shared that it was Father’s Day, and he was thinking about his kid after assessing the change in Lyles’ behavior; that her kids were present had been initially disarming for him because they were in similar age to his own kids. He expressed he had been hoping Lyles would comply, because there was a moment that she did.
- Anderson testified that he reassessed his initial use of force when Lyles stepped back, but when she lunged forward again that he decided more force was necessary.
- With regards to SPD’s bias-free policy, Buck asked, “Is there anything in your training, or your understanding of the policy, that suggests that you should have gone in and treated her as somebody who was engaged in an active mental health crisis or someone that was an immediate threat to officers based on her calling in a cold burglary?” and Anderson replied, “Treating her differently would have been a violation of policy. Stigmatizing somebody would be a violation of our policy. Something I wouldn’t do.”
- Anderson was asked about the synced video footage which showed the front door open, and whether he could have stepped outside the apartment during the incident. He said he could not since McNew was still in the kitchen.
- Officer Steven McNew was called next for testimony and first questioned by Claire Thornton, inquest attorney. McNew shared that in 2017, he was a Crisis Intervention Team officer who was assisting at Sound Mental Health, which has outpatient services as well as works with forensic clients, who have committed felonies. His work there was for security purposes but interacted often with mental health patients.
- On the day of the Lyles shooting, McNew was on first watch, between 3 a.m. and noon. He shared that he was just finishing a call somewhere around the U-District when he responded to Anderson’s call for backup.
- Details previously established about the June 5 officer safety caution and McNew’s conversations with Anderson about the incident were reiterated. McNew was asked if there was a “mental caution,” and Anderson said there was not.
- Initially, McNew’s impression had been that because domestic violence calls can be volatile, Lyles had reported the prior incident on June 5 then wanted officers to leave. McNew said that as they got closer to the door, Anderson clarified what he’d said, stating that Lyles had not wanted the officers to leave. McNew said he had a response which was “poorly-timed humor” and they rang the call box.
- McNew said that he was called as a secondary officer, to offer a second pair of eyes and ears. McNew conflated the concept of a secondary officer with the tactical idea of a “cover officer” though he corrected himself; while there was overlap, the general focus was for him to be in a security and observation function.
- When they were going up the stairs, the officers’ dialogue could not be heard, and McNew said Anderson had mentioned coming to the apartment complex previously for a domestic violence dispute and that they erroneously thought that the apartment might be the same one. They realized when they got to the top of the stairs that it was a different unit.
- Anderson knocked on the door and introduced themselves, he asked if they could come in. McNew saw that the apartment was slightly in disarray and Lyles was wearing a long coat, but he observed that Lyles and the children were all calm. He thought the two children were both toddlers but realized later that the little girl had a disability.
- McNew said that they asked Lyles if anything else was taken and she said she would show them; it was then she led them down the hallway to see the potential item in the bedroom. He recalled that about half the contact took place in the living room. Upon coming out, Lyles had also mentioned a bag in the living room that someone had potentially gone through as well. He did not recall anything happening with said bag.
- He observed Lyles’ behavior as she put her hands in her pocket but when she removed them with nothing in her hands, McNew said it dispelled any concerns. He took the closer position to her because Anderson was taking notes and it would provide cover.
- When they got to the bedroom, the officers let Lyles step into the bedroom and did not go in themselves. She pointed to a TV near the door and then they proceeded to go back towards the living room. McNew said he let Lyles pass by him so they could have a position of advantage in tracking her behavior. He took a moment to peek behind the television to see if he could find any gaming cables.
- Given the limited space in the apartment, McNew shared that the only place he could get an alternate view was in the kitchen, which was not ideal since it was “another confined space” and “kitchens contain potential weapons and opportunity.”
- McNew said that Lyles had given them no reason to believe it was anything more than a burglary call but because of the clutter and old food, he began to wonder if Lyles would need additional assistance. He did a 360 scan of the room and saw a meatloaf, and in that moment, he heard her attempting to stab Anderson.
- When asked by Thornton if he was a “mandatory reporter,” McNew said yes — that police officers are required to report if they see the elderly, children, disabled, or other parties in a situation where they were in need of additional services.
- McNew said he was taking in the scenery of the kitchen when he heard the sound of shuffling and Anderson “moving rapidly.” When he swung around the side, what caught his attention was Anderson standing near the corner of the peninsula and Lyles yelling, with a knife up to where McNew could see it.
- He then drew his weapon, “recognizing the threat,” and he saw then that Lyles had shifted her attention to him. He said the look on her face was “pained.”
- McNew said they went a couple feet along the countertop, yelling, as McNew was yelling for her to get back. McNew said because there had been a barrier between him and Lyles — since she was on the living room side — so he thought they would establish dialogue.
- When she pulled her arms up, he believed she actually could throw the knife and hit him, so he bent over behind the counter in response.
- “For what feels like an eternity,” McNew said, “I’m looking at the tips of my boots and realized I haven’t been hit and as I come back up, I hear [Anderson] say. ‘We need help.’ And at that point, in my recollection, I saw a second knife in her hand, and I called over radio, ‘We have a woman, I believe, with two knives.’”
- From there, McNew initially thought Lyles was going back towards Anderson but then realized she may be coming back for him, since McNew was stuck in the kitchen. “In a moment of desperation, I said, ‘Taser,’” he recalled.
- He said he realized as she was rounding the corner that she wasn’t going to stop and he may have to shoot her, which he didn’t want to do. He had heard her say, “Motherfuckers” — and a longer phrase he did not recall — and as she turned the corner, he said he leaned in and fired his handgun until “it was apparent that she had basically started to kind of flinch or crumble inward.” He said he stopped after that and she fell.
- He then yelled for Anderson, who he hadn’t seen; Anderson responded and they tried to figure out what to do next.
- Lyles’ oldest child soon came out of the bedroom near Anderson saying that they had shot his mother; they yelled for him to get back into the room, “because we had just shot his mom, and he had come out and seen it, and he knew; he knew what happened. And I can’t imagine … not only that he was there and that we didn’t know, but that essentially, these are his last memories [of her].”
- Afterwards, Anderson and McNew went “patch-to-patch” and took a position near the doorway so Anderson could take cover and McNew could get resources. He had picked up the little boy in his arms and was trying to stay close to Anderson.
- Due to difficulty with their radio transmission, which kept getting rejected, McNew said he had to get out, eventually going past the fire door of the apartment to get a transmission. He believed the first message he was able to get out was, “Help,” then, “We got a woman with two knives.” After shots were fired, he voiced out that shots had been fired, and he believed he asked for medics, more units, and potentially told them that they were not under control yet.
- Officer Erick Schickler arrived next. Despite McNew’s initial thoughts to have the older boy to “shelter in place,” Schickler got him and escorted him outside, covering his eyes as they passed Lyles’ body. At the door, the boy said, “I don’t wanna go; I don’t wanna go,” and McNew responded, “It’s alright; we’re not leaving.”
- After Schickler returned, he took the youngest son from McNew’s arms, and took him to someone else.
- Additional officers arrived and McNew believed he asked for a “clearing element,” so that someone else, perhaps Shickler, could check that the apartment was empty.
- For the first time, aid was rendered to Lyles soon thereafter. McNew said that he had pulled on his gloves earlier to render aid but when the young child crawled out, he became focused on evacuating the child.
- McNew did not recall for certain where the second knife was — and assumed it was still on Lyles’ person — but said that Anderson had seen one on the ground near him.
- When the other officers arrived, McNew said he and Anderson left the scene and ran into a firefighter upon exiting. McNew tried to comfort Anderson and told him the next steps that might happen.
- They waited on the scene and after Lead Force Investigation Team (FIT) Detective Jason Dewey arrived, McNew was asked to do a walk-through of the scene.
- He was then driven down to the station, gave an initial statement, drew a general schematic, and did a weapons exchange at the FIT office. A follow-up statement was requested days later.
- McNew was asked if he ever asked Lyles to drop her weapon; he had not, and like Anderson, had only asked her to “get back.”
Tuesday, July 5, 2022 — Hearings Day 8: Jury Deliberation Begins
Find the video of the eighth day of hearings at https://vimeo.com/727230078.
- The day began with a review of the final questions which would be presented to the jury and notes from records of previous days’ conversation.
- On officer Steven McNew’s second day of questioning, Karen Koehler, counsel for the Lyles family, continued her inquiry. He walked through the scene, describing and acting out the physical space in more detail, but not much new information was gleaned.
- About 30 minutes into the hearing, the jury was brought in to begin their deliberations.
Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/she) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the interim managing editor of the South Seattle Emerald, editor-in-chief of REDEFINE, and co-chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the executive director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences. Their latest short film, Reckless Spirits, is a metaphysical, multilingual POC buddy comedy, and will be released in late 2022. Follow them at @hellomynameisvee or over at veehua.com
📸 Featured Image: Charleena Lyles memorial in Seattle, Washington, in 2017. (Photo: Sharon Ho Chang)
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