Inquest jurors split over threat slain woodcarver posed to Seattle officer

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News and KING 5 News Staff

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on January 20, 2011 at 12:49 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 8:57 AM

SEATTLE – Eight King County jurors revealed their answers to more than a dozen key questions regarding a Seattle Police officer who fatally shot a First Nations woodcarver.

Based on their answers, several jurors did not entirely believe Officer Ian Birk's account of what happened at the busy Seattle intersection that August day, and did not believe John T. Williams had enough time to respond to Birk's orders and drop the knife before the shooting.

Birk shot and killed 50-year-old Williams after stopping to confront him about a knife he was carrying.

Answers reveal all eight jurors unanimously agreed Williams was holding a knife when he crossed the street when Birk contacted him, and unanimously agreed that Birk ordered him to put it down.

However, only one juror agreed Williams had sufficient time to drop the knife before Birk fired. Four jurors said Williams did not have enough time, and three jurors couldn't decide based on the evidence.

Also, only one juror agreed Williams posed an imminent threat to Birk when he fired his weapon. Four jurors believed Wiliams was not a threat, and three jurors did not know.

The jury's answers do not have to be unanimous. They will be used by the King County Prosecutor's Office in determining whether Birk should be charged with a crime.

Video from Birk's patrol car dash cam shows Williams slowly walking in a crosswalk. He had a piece of wood and a knife for carving.  Birk stopped his patrol car and ordered Williams to put down his knife.  Seconds later, Birk fired four shots, killing the woodcarver.

Instead of a guilty or not guilty verdict, the jurors answered 19 questions about the fatal shooting.  Here's how they answered the questions:

1. Did Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk observe John T. Williams crossing the street? (8 yes)

2. Was John T. Williams holding an open knife at the time he was first observed by Officer Birk? (8 yes)

3. Did Officer Birk get out of his patrol car to contact John T. Williams? (8 yes)

4. Did Officer Birk gesture to John T. Williams to come back to Officer Birk's location? (7 yes, 1 unknown)

5. Did John T. Williams have a knife in his hand when Officer Birk contacted him? (8 yes)

6. Did Officer Birk order John T. Williams to put the knife down? (8 yes)

6a. Did Officer Birk order John T. Williams to put the knife down more than once? (8 yes)

6b. Did John T. Williams have sufficient time to put the knife down after Officer Birk's order? (1 yes, 4 no, 3 unknown)

6c. Did John T. Williams try to put the knife down after Officer Birk's order? (8 unknown)

6d. Did John T. Williams put the knife down before Officer Birk began to fire his weapon? (8 no)

7. Was the front of John T. Williams' upper body partially turned towards Officer Birk when Officer Birk began to fire his weapon? (2 yes, 5 no, 1 unknown)

8. Did Officer Birk fire his weapon at John T. Williams on August 30, 2010? (8 yes)

9. When Officer Birk fired his weapon, did John T. Williams have a knife in his hand? (4 no, 4 unknown)

9a. Was John T. Williams' knife blade open when Officer Birk fired his weapon? (4 no, 4 unknown)

10. Did Officer Birk believe that John T. Williams posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Officer Birk at the time Officer Birk fired his weapon? (4 yes, 4 unknown)

11.  Based on the information available at the time Officer Birk fired his weapon, did John T. Williams then pose an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Officer Birk? (1 yes, 4 no, 3 unknown)

12. DId John T. Williams die in King County on August 30, 2010? (8 yes)

13. Did John T. Williams dies from the gunshot wounds caused by Officer Birk? (8 yes)

After deliberations, officials in the King County Prosecutors Office stated they will conduct an independent review of the inquest's findings to determine whether charges should be filed. The review is expected to be done in mid-February.

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