Chief Diaz: “I Have a Lot More Questions Than Answers” About Fatal Shooting

Less than sixty seconds after Officer Ian Birk spotted John Trouble Williams crossing a downtown intersection Monday evening, Williams lay in the street, bleeding to death.

At a press conference at Seattle Police Department headquarters this afternoon, Seattle police Chief John Diaz, Deputy Chief Clark Kimmerer, and Acting Deputy Chief Nick Metz spoke about the incident, which was captured on SPD’s in-car recording system. But that tape still apparently hasn’t given police a full picture of what led Officer Birk to fatally shoot Williams.

“I have a lot more questions than answers,” Diaz said this afternoon, adding that police are asking anyone who witnessed the incident to contact SPD’s homicide unit (206-684-5550)

“No one in the department wants to use deadly force,” Chief Diaz said.

Police say Officer Birk—who is 27, and has been with the department for two years—was driving southbound on Howell St when he saw Williams cross in a crosswalk, carrying a wooden board and a knife. Officer Birk saw the man using the knife on the board, pulled over, and turned on his car’s light bar, activating the in-car recording system.

While the shooting wasn’t caught on video, police say Officer Birk can clearly be heard ordering Williams to drop his knife three times before he opened fire.

The whole encounter took place in less than a minute, according to police, before Officer Birk fired four rounds, killing Williams. Officer Birk was not injured in the incident.

According to Deputy Chief Metz, Williams “did turn toward the officer,”  but police are still trying to clarify whether Williams lunged at Birk. Police say Birk and Williams were only about 9-10 feet away during the encounter.

Officer Birk was not equipped with a Taser, Metz said, adding that SPD advises officers not to use less-lethal equipment—such as a Taser or pepper spray—when they are facing a suspect armed with a potentially deadly weapon, like a knife or a gun. Typically, police will only use less-lethal weapons when they have backup from another officer.

Diaz said police are working on increasing de-escalation training. However, he noted, “let’s not mix up apples and oranges.” Situations get “more dicey” when a potentially deadly weapon is involved.

Police say Birk had received basic crisis intervention training, and that Birk believed he was in danger when he opened fire on Williams. Police released a photo of the three-inch serrated blade Williams was carrying when he was shot.

SPD’s firearms review board will now take a look at the case, and King County will also likely hold an inquest to examine the details of the shooting.