SEATTLE - Jurors have been selected in the inquest into a fatal shooting of a man by a Seattle police.
Eight jurors total will hear evidence about the Aug. 30 shooting of John T. Williams, a 50-year-old First Nation native wood carver, by Officer Ian Birk. The inquest could influence whether Birk loses his job or is charged criminally. The inquest itself is not a criminal proceeding, but is held to determine the facts of what happened.
During the inquest, the judge granted a request by Birk's attorney, Ted Buck, limiting what the jury will hear about Birk's status with the department.
Jurors won't be told that the Police Firearms Review Board found the shooting to be unjustified during a preliminary review, nor will they learn that the Seattle Police Chief ordered Birk to turn in his badge and his gun pending the outcome of the inquest and an internal investigation. Sources tell KING 5 such a request is unusual and indicates the department has lost confidence in the officer.
The police department's internal review of the shooting also will follow the inquest.
Birk said he shot Williams because Williams refused to drop the knife he was carrying. Witnesses say Williams did not appear to be a threat. Birk's comments were caught on his patrol car video camera; however, the shooting can't be seen on the tape because it's blocked by the officer's car.
"I certainly don't see that tape showing any kind of threat to the officer or any kind of an indication that there was a threat to the officer," said prosecutor Emma Kaplan.
The jury will be asked to answer questions about whether Birk had reason to feel threatened by Williams. The jury watched the video, which brought tears to some spectators.
It's still unclear whether Birk will take the stand. Anything he says during the inquest can be used against him later if he's charged with a crime.
"Ian Birk has an abiding interest in telling people exactly what happened out there," said Buck. "It is risky. Anytime that he goes on the record talking about what happened, if you get a particularly motivated prosecutor, federal person, whoever it might be, it is a risk."
Security is tight at the King County Courthouse, with two screening checkpoints. The shooting has inflamed concerns about the Seattle Police Department's use of force in a number of recent incidents. About a dozen Indians and other demonstrators pounded drums and sang outside the courthouse before the start the inquest.
One afternoon protest included calls for Birk to be tried for murder. The anger spilled inside the courthouse as well, with protesters donning "4 seconds to death" bandanas. It refers to the four seconds on the video between the time Birk ordered Williams to drop the knife and when the shots were fired.