Eight members of a King County inquest jury were unable to finish deliberating yesterday in the police shooting death of John T. Williams. They'll come back to court today and go at it again. So since it may be a good way of thinking about the case critically, let's attempt to answer the 13-plus questions that the jury was asked to answer, going off reported facts, testimony, and the all-important video footage.
Also, here's the video once again:
1. On August 20, 2010, did Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk observe John T. Williams crossing the street?
Yes. The video shows him stop, get out of his car and yell at Williams.
2. Was John T. Williams holding an open knife at the time he was first observed by Officer Birk?
Yes. From the dashcam footage, it looks as though Williams is holding both the wood statue and another object. At one point, the sunlight glints off what looks like a small blade.
3. Did Officer Birk get out of his patrol car to contact John T. Williams?
4. Did Officer Birk gesture to John T. Williams to come back to Officer Birk's location?
Yes. It looks as though Birk is walking toward him curling his finger in the "come-hither" gesture. But Williams is walking the opposite direction and it's not until after that gesture that Birk begins to yell "Hey, hey, hey..." so it's difficult to imagine how Williams would have seen Birk's finger.
Plus, since Birk himself has demonstrated Williams' movements as beginning with his back toward him, then making a half turn so his right side was pointed at him, Birk was apparently still facing away from Williams when he first contacted him.
Still, he did gesture and that's the question.
5. Did John T. Williams have a knife in his hand when Officer Birk contacted him?
Unknown. He had it seconds before when he was walking across the street--so, yeah, he probably did.
But witness testimony is contradictory in this detail, as we'll get to shortly.
6. Did Officer Birk order John T. Williams to put the knife down?
Yes. Three times.
If your answer to question 6 was yes, please answer the following four questions:
6a: Did Officer Birk order John T. Williams to put the knife down more than once?
Yes. As I said: three times.
6b: Did John T. Williams have sufficient time to put the knife down after Officer Birk's order?
No. Five seconds elapse between the first time Birk yells "put the knife down" and the first shot being fired. Allowing for the average person (especially the average chronic inebriate who may take a little longer to register things than other folks) to turn around, comprehend a message, and comply with it has to last longer than five seconds in this city.
That's unless the person starts coming toward the officer or posing an obvious and immediate threat--which wasn't the case, as Birk's own testimony shows.
6c: Did John T. Williams try to put the knife down after Officer Birk's order?
Unknown. Birk says he held his "thousand-yard stare" pose for several seconds before he shot him.
Two witnesses say they didn't even see a knife.
But since we've already established that he did have a knife at some point, it would seem that by the witnesses not seeing it, one could conclude that Williams never put it down where they could see it, but kept it held with his body blocking it.
But at the end of the day, this one is Birk's word against the rest, so it has to be unknown.
6d: Did John T. Williams put the knife down before Officer Birk began to fire his weapon?
Unknown. For all the above reasons.
7. Was the front of John T. Williams' upper body partially turned towards Officer Birk when Officer Birk began to fire his weapon?
Yes. But barely partially. And "partially" is an extremely general term anyway.
Williams was shot four times: once in the right side of the chin and exiting out the left side; once in the right forearm and out the other side of it; once through the right arm and out through the chest; and, most important, the first shot was through the right chest and out through the armpit.
Williams was facing north on Howell Street when he was shot
Williams was facing north on Howell Street when he was shot. Birk was facing southwest on Howell, slightly east of Williams when he fired, so Williams would have had to turn his chest farther than he would if he were directly parallel with him.
The shot through the chest shows at least some amount of his chest was turned toward Birk.
Not that anyone stands perfectly sideways.
7a: If no, was John T. Williams turning towards Officer Birk when Officer Birk fired his weapon?
8. Did Officer Birk fire his weapon at John T. Williams on August 30, 2010?
Yes. We've been over this.
9. When Officer Birk fired his weapon, did John T. Williams have a knife in his hand?
Unknown. The knife can be seen early in the tapes. But accounts of the rest of the interaction are contradictory. Birk says he had a knife. Witnesses were in poor position to see his hands, but say they didn't see a knife.
Split decision. Unknown.
9a. If yes, was John T. Williams' knife blade open when Officer Birk fired his weapon?
N/A. And even if yes, Birk has testified it was closed, but a firefighter testified she saw an open knife. Another split decision.
10. Did Officer Birk believe that John T. Williams posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Officer Birk at the time Officer Birk fired his weapon?
Unknown. It's impossible to know what he "believed." He fired quickly enough to believe it. He yelled about a knife right away enough to believe it.
But would a rail-thin drunk dude with a carving blade, standing still, nine feet away and looking mean look like an imminent threat if I had a gun? No, not really.
11. Based on the information available at the time Officer Birk fired his weapon, did John T. Williams then pose an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Officer Birk?
No. Whatever Birk "believed" Williams wasn't moving toward him and wasn't making sudden movements. He was just standing there, looking like an angry, tired drunk who'd been on the streets too long.
12. Did John T. Williams die in King County, Washington on Aug. 30, 2010?
13. Did John T. Williams die from the gunshot wounds caused by Officer Birk?