Woodcarver shooting by SPD officer not justified, sources say


by KING 5 News


Posted on October 14, 2010 at 12:58 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 14 at 8:55 PM

SEATTLE – The fatal shooting of a homeless woodcarver by a Seattle police officer in August was not justified. That's the finding of a preliminary review by the Seattle Police Department, sources tell KING 5 News.

Officer Ian Birk, who has been on paid administrative leave since the Aug. 30 shooting, has been ordered to hand in his gun and badge.

It's way too soon to know whether Birk will keep his job as a Seattle police officer, but his actions have come under intense scrutiny since he shot and killed 50-year old John T. Williams in downtown Seattle. Williams was carrying a piece of wood and a small knife he used for carving.

The officer said he repeatedly ordered Williams to drop the knife. But it turns out Williams was partially deaf and may not have heard Birk.

Initially the department said Williams made a move toward the officer, but it later backed away from that assertion. Sources tell KING 5 a preliminary review on October 4 by the firearms review board concluded the shooting was not justified.

A fact finding inquest still has to happen early next year before the review board issues a final ruling. That's an open hearing where a jury determines the facts of the case. Prosecutors often use those inquest findings to determine if any criminal charges will be pursued against the officer.

Officer Birk has not been fired. He remains on paid administrative leave. But a police source tells KING 5 the department didn't want to run the risk of having him involved in something else while the shooting is still under review. Having him turn in his badge and gun indicates the command staff has serious concerns about the circumstances of this shooting.

The Seattle police guild says it can't comment on a preliminary finding.

KING 5 has been unable to reach Birk's attorney for comment.

KING 5's Linda Byron contributed to this report.