Much has been learned in the two and a half months since Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk shot and killed Native American woodcarver and chronic inebriate John T. Williams near downtown. It's been learned that the knife the officer felt so threatened by was a three-inch long, legal blade used for carving wood. It's been learned that Williams was shot all four times in his right side, meaning that he wasn't facing Birk at the time. And now, thanks to new information obtained by the Seattle Times, it seems that the folding knife Williams was carrying may have not have even been open when he was shot.
A photo of the knife released by Seattle Police after the shooting shows a fully opened pocket knife with a clip along one side. So if the knife was closed when dropped by Williams and open in the photo, one can only assume that someone in the department opened it themselves.
If the knife was shut when police found it, why was it open when they took a photo of it?
The Times inquired as to such but got a "no comment" from the department.
Ofc. Birk has said he drove his cruiser up to the corner of Boren Avenue and Howell Street on the evening of Aug. 30 where he saw Williams with the knife and a wooden totem pole. Birk ordered Williams to drop the knife three times before squeezing off four rounds into the man's side from a distance of about nine feet.
The officer was not armed with a Taser and never called for backup.
Family members of Williams have said the man likely didn't hear the officer because he's deaf in one ear.
The department originally said that Williams advanced on Birk, but later recanted on the statement.
As detailed in the excellent profile by Times staffer Lynda V. Mapes, Williams life was even more tragic than his death. He suffered from diabetes, seizures, mental illness, and most of all, crippling dependence on drugs and alcohol.
In October, a preliminary report by the department's Firearms Review Board ruled that the shooting was unjustified. Now a county inquest will further determine what actually happened that day.
The results of the inquest will go to King County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel T. Satterberg, who would determine whether to press charges against the officer.
Birk, meanwhile, remains on paid administrative leave.