SEATTLE -- Many witnesses who saw a fatal police shooting unfold on a downtown Seattle street contradicted the officer's version of what happened.
Thursday was the fourth day of the fact-finding inquest into whether the shooting that killed John T. Williams, 50, a First Nation woodcarver, was justified. Officer Ian Birk, 27, at the center of the inquest, testified Williams was holding a piece of wood and a knife in a threatening manner, leaving him no option but lethal force.
The incident happened on a warm August day and many people saw it. Janelle Coppinger saw the shooting as she was driving by and was deeply disturbed.
"Beautiful sunny day in downtown Seattle, peaceful part of town, it just seemed wrong I had to go back, I had to go back," she testified.
More than a half dozen citizen witnesses testified that they didn't remember seeing the woodcarver holding a knife or threatening the officer.
Most reported hearing the officer yell to put down the knife several times, then open fire. They seemed disturbed by what they saw, and some asked not to have their faces photographed by the media.
One witness testified he thought the officer must be using a taser.
"He yelled twice, didn't hear what he said because he had his back to me, and almost immediately after he yelled two times he shot three times. After he shot the officer was standing, bouncing up and down. Very agitated like he was waiting for the guy to get back up," the witness said.
A fire department lieutenant who responded to the scene testified she saw an open knife next to Williams' body. But according to other responding officers, the knife was closed on the ground next to the body.
Officer Birk's attorney suggested witnesses may not have been close enough to see whether Williams had a knife and could have had their vision blocked by cars moving through the intersection.
The eight member jury will be asked to answer a set of questions about whether the shooting seemed justified. It is not a criminal proceeding. Their answers will be used by prosecutors to decide whether officer Birk should be charged with a crime. For now he remains on administrative leave with pay.