Seattle Police officer at center of shooting inquest testifies


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

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Posted on January 11, 2011 at 2:52 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 11 at 7:12 PM

SEATTLE - The Seattle Police officer at the center of an inquest into a fatal shooting voluntarily testified Tuesday.

Officer Ian Birk was sworn in at the inquest just after 2:30 p.m.

Eight jurors heard his account of the Aug. 30 shooting of John T. Williams, a 50-year-old First Nations native woodcarver, who was shot by Officer Birk.

"I clearly saw a knife in the open position when he passed in front of my patrol car," Birk said.

Birk testified he didn't recognize the man, later identified as Williams, but he appeared to be impaired. Birk pulled his gun as he approached.

"When you're contacting somebody who might have what could potentially be used as a deadly weapon, if you have the opportunity to have your gun out, it's important that you do so," he said.

Williams' family appeared skeptical as Birk described how he yelled out, and Williams turned toward him.

"As he continued to turn I could see that he still was holding the knife up in front of himself, and he was holding it up in front of himself in sort of a confrontational posture. I immediately started to tell him to drop the knife. To put the knife down," said Birk.

Birk said he believed Williams was poised to attack, so he followed his police training.

"I was not left with any reasonable alternative but to fire at Mr. Williams," he testified.

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.

The testimony will be used against Birk only if prosecutors decide to file criminal charges against him. But after he endured months of criticism, he wanted to tell his story.

Earlier Tuesday, a detective testified that Officer Birk was not trained on a taser but was carrying pepper spray and a baton at the time of the incident with Williams.

The detective also testified officers are trained to shoot people who are a threat. However, the detective went on to say the video of the Aug. 30 incident does not show Williams do anything threatening.

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.

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