Will Seattle officer testify at woodcarver inquest?

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on November 30, 2010 at 8:04 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 30 at 8:04 PM

SEATTLE - A judge has set a date for an inquest into the shooting death of a Native American woodcarver.

The question before the inquest jury isn't whether Officer Ian Birk shot and killed native woodcarver John T. Williams in Seattle last August. The officer admits firing the fatal shots. But jurors will be asked to answer factual questions about what happened, including whether the officer had sufficient reason to use deadly force.

Officer Birk did not attend a pre-inquest hearing in King County District Court Tuesday.
But the woodcarver's two brothers and other supporters attended in force, some wearing buttons reading "jail the killer cop" and calling for the officer to be charged.
            
Marguerite Richard was wearing one of the buttons and said that she believes Officer Birk should be charged “with murder, as a killing that I feel was unjustifiable.”
 
Birk reported he shot Williams because the woodcarver refused orders to drop the knife he was carrying. 
            
Shortly after the shooting, the Seattle Police Department released a picture of the knife open—with the blade exposed.
 
But the knife was actually recovered at the scene fully closed. And a Police Department Firearms Review Board made a preliminary finding that the shooting was not justified.
 
Last week, King County Prosecutors released patrol car dash camera videos to KING 5 News. The videos show police sparring with a drunken Williams in the days and weeks before the fatal shooting.
 
Attorney Tim Ford, who represents the Williams family questions why one video was withheld—the video from Officer Birk’s car, which captured audio of the fatal shooting and shows what was happening seconds before Birk opened fire.
            
"Why not city of Seattle, why not prosecutor's office?” Ford said. “Why not show what Ian Birk did? Why focus on what Mr. Williams did in the days weeks before?”
 
While Birk is reportedly eager to explain why he pulled the trigger, his attorney says Birk may decide to stay silent during the inquest.  
            
"We have concerns about the pre-trial, pre-inquest publicity and whether or not we will be able to seat a jury that is open minded enough to make the process work correctly."
 
The inquest jury will decide whether Birk had reason to use deadly force.  Later, the King County Prosecutor’s Office will decide whether to charge the officer criminally.
            
At today's hearing the judge made it clear that Birk will not receive immunity during the inquest --anything that the officer says can be used against him in a criminal or civil case later. That’s another reason that Birk may opt to remain silent.

The inquest will be held Jan. 10 in King County District Court.

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