SEATTLE – Police are asking for more witnesses to step forward after a homeless man carrying a folding knife with a 3-inch blade was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer Tuesday. At least one witness tells KING 5 what he saw is different than what police originally reported.
The King County Medical Examiner has identified the man shot as 50-year-old John T. Williams. He was reportedly a member of the Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square, a social services agency and day center for Native-American people. Williams was known for the carvings he sold around downtown Seattle.
Sue Chambers learned how to carve from Williams, a man she called her brother.
"With only a pen knife, you will have an amazing carving," said Chambers. "He would carve little items so he could get himself something to eat or, unfortunately, a bottle to drink"
Friends say Williams lived in a supportive housing unit for chronic alcoholics just down the street from where he was killed.
Robert Sanchez lived a few doors down and showed off a few dream catchers Williams had made for his friends.
"He was a mellow guy," Sanchez said. "I was just in shock, because it doesn't sound like him."
"He was really gifted," said friend Joseph Salazar. "He'd always give me tips on my art."
Williams was shot and killed at about 4:15 p.m. Monday at the corner of Boren Avenue and Howell Street in downtown Seattle. Police at the scene said that the officer was in his patrol car when he saw Williams sitting on a wall. Williams appeared to be whittling a piece of wood.
Friends said he told them he was heading to Pike Place Market to sell his artwork.
"He had told us he was going to sell a carving to buy beers for all of us," said Salazar. "We didn't expect him to get killed, it was a shock to all of us."
Police said the officer ordered Williams to drop the knife. Williams allegedly moved toward the officer, still holding the knife. That's when the officer shot Williams.
"The man refused the officer's orders and the officer fired, we believe, four rounds," said Seattle Deputy Police Chief Nick Metz at a press conference Tuesday.
That's not the way it happened according to Thomas, an office worker who asked we not give his last name.
"When I heard that story, I was really upset because it was just total counter to what I witnessed," said Thomas. He says Williams was walking away from the officer.
"The cop then fired three shots," said Thomas. "One had to go in the side and the others had to go in the guy's back 'cause the guy never did turn around. He never approached the cop. Never saw his hands. Never saw a knife. He may have looked back at the cop, but he didn't do anything threatening."
Witness Gregory Reese says he did see Williams turn, but he didn't think Williams was a threat to the officer.
"He just turned around and the cop shot him. That's all I saw. It was really quick," said Reese.
William's friends concur, saying the man, at 50, walked with a pronounced limp and was hard of hearing in one ear.
"That was really awful," said Salazar. "Man I don't understand how they did that."
Seattle Police said because Williams' knife was less than 3.5 inches in length, it was legal to carry.
The officer who shot Williams has been identified as Ian Birk, 27, who has been with SPD for two years. He has been put on administrative leave, which is standard procedure when an officer fires a weapon.