Videos show officers' frequent encounters with woodcarver

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on November 23, 2010 at 2:48 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 23 at 11:40 AM

SEATTLE - Stunned witnesses called 911 after seeing John T. Williams shot and killed at the intersection of Howell and Boren streets in downtown Seattle.

"An officer just shot somebody on the street,” said one witness. “The officer is saying he had a knife, but I didn't see it and I was directly across from the guy."
 
Officer Ian Birk said the native woodcarver advanced on him, ignoring commands to drop the knife he was holding.

Now, KING 5  has obtained patrol car videos from the weeks before the shooting on August 30th, showing Williams bantering with officers. The interactions are often argumentative, but Williams is ultimately compliant.
 
On August 8, police respond to a trespassing report and confront Williams limping down an alley holding a wooden sign. The following interaction is recorded by the police dash cam:
 
"Put the sign down,” orders the officer.
“I’m a woodcarver,” responds Williams.
“Put the sign down,” orders the officer again.
The officer grabs the sign and throws it to the ground, saying “calm down all right?”
 
The officers detain Williams and discuss whether to cite him for trespassing or carrying an open container of beer.   It’s not clear whether he is given a citation.  
 
Four days later in a dark alley, an officer is responding to complaints about an unruly man and encounters Williams.
 
"Apparently some of the customers are complaining because you're yelling and swearing at them and they don't want that, so, they’re asking you to move along,” the officer tells Williams. “So go ahead and head somewhere else.”
 
Williams limps way, complying with the officers commands.
 
But the situation is tense on August 25th, when officers confront Williams about crossing the street against a red light.  

 Officer: "You see that symbol right there?”
Williams: “Don’t walk!”
Officer: “Next time look up and you won't get stopped,” says the officer.
Williams: “Okay!”
 
The officer threatens him with a trip to jail or a hospital if it happens again.
"Your choice…grab your stuff and leave,” says the officer.
 
 Back in his patrol car, the unidentified officer expresses his frustration as Williams is seen shuffling away.
 
“This ends my contact with Mr. Williams--one of our regular mental transient Native Americans,” says the officer. “I’ll be turning the video camera off.”
 
Five days later, Williams is dead on a sidewalk with four bullets in his side.
 
A preliminary look at the case by the Police Firearms Review Board called the shooting “unjustified” and Officer Birk was ordered to surrender his badge and gun.

The officers are not clearly identified in the patrol car video recordings, but none of them is Officer Birk. His attorney, Ted Buck, told KING 5 that Officer Birk had never met Williams before the incident which led to the shooting.

A hearing is scheduled Tuesday to set an inquest date which will determine whether Officer Birk acted appropriately.

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