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City of Seattle

February 16, 1:16 PM click here to comment > 13

Statement by Mayor McGinn

There is a family and a community grieving for John T. Williams: a Native American woodcarver who made Seattle his home. And as we talk about laws and policies and procedures, we cannot forget this.

Today the county prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, decided not to bring criminal charges against Ian Birk for the shooting of Mr. Williams.

I understand the frustration and anger that the public feels. They rightly want to know: If Ian Birk is not held accountable for his actions, can any officer be held accountable?

In our system of government, I do not have the authority to bring criminal charges. This authority rests with the King County Prosecutor, a separately elected official accountable to King County voters.

I am responsible and accountable to the voters of Seattle for the supervision of the Police Department and its employees.

Since the shooting, Ian Birk has been asked to turn in his badge and gun, and placed on leave.

Our Firearms Review Board conducted its process, concluded that the shooting was not justified, and has recommended that Ian Birk should never again carry a gun, wear a uniform, or return to duty as a Seattle Police officer.

Under the laws that govern me, and the city of Seattle, we have not been permitted to make a disciplinary decision as to Ian Birk’s employment until the completion of the inquest, and the completion of any criminal proceedings. I know the public finds the lack of action frustrating. So do I. The laws that govern this issue place greater value on the officer’s due process rights, and rights in his job, than the public’s expectation that improper use of force will be swiftly and appropriately dealt with.

Indeed, the law and rules that govern this matter mean that his actions will be reviewed by the Office of Professional Accountability and he will have one more opportunity to speak to the Police Chief before the Chief decides on discipline. This process will take approximately 2 weeks.

Some will note the contrast between Ian Birk’s right to be heard and the approximately 5 seconds between his command to John Williams and Mr. Williams’ tragic death. I do. But we will follow the rules before Chief Diaz’s final decision.

To the citizens of Seattle, I am deeply sorry for this tragedy, and for the loss of faith between our community and our police force. I will do all in my power to restore it.

Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn


Comment from Charles Cooper
Time February 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Mr. Mayor, thank you for your statement about this tragedy. I would like to suggest that your decision as to the leadership of the Police Department may have contributed to the continued tensions between the department and the community.

As a “new” (recently returned) citizen of Seattle, I don’t have confidence that SPD can effectively do their job to protect and serve the citizens of the city. Perhaps, you should have gone with the other candidate who courageously pointed out what could be done to address this problem.

If the Chief of Police fails to terminate this officer you will have a bigger problem on your hands and a real crisis of confidence by the citizens. In every other respect you act courageously, even in the face of insurmountable political opposition. This issue of police accountability is an area where you need to act decisively and with the same level of courage you show on other matters.

Comment from Phil
Time February 16, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Could someone please compare and contrast “put on leave” with “given paid vacation”?

Comment from Amanda Knipping
Time February 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm

It seems that this shooting, this killing of John T. Williams hits on several important points that I am sure you are all aware of. As this has been considered to not be justified, this should now be considered a crime. Simply taking away Officer Birk’s badge and gun is not serving justice to the Williams family. If appropiate action is not taken to serve the needed justice there SHOULD be a loss of faith in our police force. How can any citizen feel comfortable and safe when an older guy is killed on a Seattle sidewalk? And why should we feel the faith. Criminal action against a police officer should never be taken lightly, but in this case it is needed. Not just to restore faith in our criminal justice system, but for justice for the family who lost a loved one. In your statement, you said “…and the approximately 5 seconds between his command to John Williams and Mr. Williams’ tragic death.” If the Williams is hard of hearing or has trouble with comprehension, the rapid fire warnings was inappropriate. Officer Birk did not correctly assess the situation, he got out of the vehicle, gun in hand, let no time for Williams to follow his directive, and killed a man. He knew what he was going to do when he stepped out of his patrol car. Guilt, remorse, and feelings of empathy that, hopefully, he feels, doesn’t change what he did. He should be in prison on, at the very least, charges of negligent homicide.

Comment from Robert Manaway Jr
Time February 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm

It’s so sad that the people who are to “protect and serve” don’t have to abide by the same laws they enforce on the citizens. Nothing makes me more angry and look at all people in the justice system as “untrustworthy” than hiding behind a bunch of “laws.” The best way to show accountability in my eyes to charge this man with murder and lock him up! Otherwise, the apologies are just a bunch of non-sense to shut the people up and make this SPD look “trustworthy.” Unfortunately, I don’t by it! The actions of the SPD the last 18 months have lead me to not even speak to them, out of fear I may be the next one stomped, punched, and shot unarmed and not be able to do anything about it because of the “law.”

Comment from Michael Lubrano
Time February 16, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Mayor McGinn,
I understand your position and your limited authority to prosecute Ian Birk, and officers like him, directly. I will take you at your word that you will do all in your power to restore our faith. Here is what I ask you do that is within your power as Mayor.

1. OPA (Office of Professional Accountability) needs to restructured to be an ALL citizens review board. No law enforcement, past or current, should be allowed to serve on OPA because of their inherent bias and conflict of interest. The OPA also needs real subpoena and investigative power with a budget that is commensurate to achieving those goals. This is something that has been asked for and repeatedly denied. If this city is serious about change in service of justice it will make this change.

2. The City of Seattle should not renew the contract with the Police Officers Guild until they submit to real civilian review and authority via the changes to OPA noted above and in the following items.

3. The Office of Mayor should appoint a citizens council(separate from OPA) composed of members of communities most impacted by Police misconduct to review all Seattle Police Training – and that council will produce a report with changes and recommendations with emphasis on De-escalation Training, Non-Violent Communication, Competency in First Amendment and Bill of Rights Law and changes to rules of engagement and use of deadly force.

4. A moratorium on all hiring into SPD for anyone with a military background until this practice has had thorough review as to whether it should continue. The Police force needs to be de-militarized.

5. The Mayors office should direct the Police Chief to directly review all Officer, Patrolmen and Command positions and speak with them individually to see whether they are fit and able to conduct themselves in a professional and unbias manner.

I’m referring to Officer Pomper and those on the force like him who are outwardly hostile and hold contempt for civilian oversight. Office Pomper referred to the city government as a “socialist cabal” and “the enemy”. As is stated in the Seattle times article linked below the author notes that while everyone is entitled to their opinion some beliefs would exclude people from certain professions. The people of this city have the right to have their values reflected in city government and in it’s Police force. Any Police officer who feels he cannot uphold this should be relieved of duty and find more suitable employment.

6. An analysis of the current demographic of SPD needs to be done to see what percentage of Police Officers live within the city limits and what percentage of officers are people of color. The Police force that patrols the city and enforces it’s laws will understand the values of the cities citizenry better if they actually live in the city. Part of what we have now is a clash of cultures where Police officers who live in politically conservative enclaves come to the city to enforce the law with their own agenda.

7. SPD policies regarding officer stress and health should be reviewed to ensure officers are getting the proper rest and care they need.There should also be limits on the amount of overtime and any moonlighting to make sure officers are clear minded when on duty.

Everytime justice is denied that sets the stage for future conflict and suffering. This is a critical moment for all of us to pause and reflect upon future and the kind of city we want to create and leave behind. Will Seattle become a more just city or continue to be a place where some police officers are above the law and can take a life with impunity?

Comment from Marianne
Time February 17, 2011 at 3:28 am

Why doesn’t anyone mention that Ian Burk NEVER identified himself as a police officer, just yelling hey, hey, hey. Wouldn’t you turn around with a meanish look on your face thinking “who the hell is that”?? Where was Ian Burks other means of defense???? Like a taser etc??? Where was the veteran officer for this ROOKIE, to say “leave the guy alone, he’s not bothering anyone”??? There is SO much wrong with this incident!!! IAN BURK NEEDS TO GO TO JAIL!!!! I certainly hope the family files a wrongful death suit against this jackass and takes him for everything he’s got.

Comment from Anitra Freeman
Time February 17, 2011 at 7:53 am

Addressing the injustice of one killing seriously cannot stop with the prosecution of Ian Birk. SPD management set Birk up to fail. He returned from active duty in urban warfare in Iraq and joined the police department, which gave no care to his psychological transition. He served with fellow officers who regard themselves as being in urban warfare with a socialist cabal, and SPD management has done nothing to change this culture. He was not adequately trained in de-escalating conflict and not escalating it in the first place, and he was not adequately supervised to monitor how he was following professional practices. He did not have any level of relationship with the people who were regularly seen in the area he was assigned to patrol, and he was out there alone, with no one to advise him about what was actually a suspicious situation and what was business as usual.

If the son of a wealthy family had been killed under the same circumstances, would Chief Diaz still have a job?

Michael Lubrano has excellent suggestions for addressing the systemic problems that set up John T. Williams and Ian Birk for tragedy.

Comment from Anitra Freeman
Time February 17, 2011 at 7:55 am

Dear Moderator: I misspelled my email address on the previous post. Please note the correction. 🙂

Comment from pete whipple
Time February 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm

This is another case of the government protecting their own from prosecution for crimes that they committed.

This makes you, the police department, and the prosecuters office guilty of protecting a murderer.

What you all have done is as equally duplicite as what the Clemmons family did to protect their own.

Burke should be charged with murder. Seattlites will not trust you or the police if he is not charged.

Comment from calvin
Time February 18, 2011 at 1:25 am


Comment from Monica Clark
Time February 19, 2011 at 9:02 am

Seattle police officers have been caught on tape time after time violating protocol, maiming, injuring and killing innocent victims. When or if I am pulled over by a Seattle cop, or have contact with a Seattle police officer, I am afraid of how the encounter may escalate. I am being very, very serious here. Everyone keeps passing the buck; Prosecutors, Police Ciefs and Mayors! You all need to read the writing on the wall written in innocent blood, Seattle has a real problme with police brutality, just like New York City did years ago, the difference is this, the citizens review board had the authority to identify the problems and the Mayor, Prosecuotor and Chief of Police responded accordingly. Stop passing the buck~! John Williams is not the only caualty, although his outcome was the most tragic, there are other victims as well.

Comment from Ian McFeron
Time February 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Dear Mayor McGinn,

It seems that if the existing laws prohibit King County Prosecutor from prosecuting police officers who commit heinous crimes against the citizens of Seattle, then the laws need to be changed to allow our community to seek justice when the authorities abuse their power. If police officers wield their weapons with the knowledge that, regardless of whether or not they fire justly or unjustly, they are all but legally immune from investigation let alone prosecution, there is little to deter them from using deadly force. We should change the laws so that officers that fire a weapon in the line of duty are subject, not only to the Firearms Review Board, but also to criminal investigation especially in incidents involving a fatality shooting which has been ruled as unjustified.

Frankly, I am sickened by the murder of John Williams, and feel that it is yet another example in a growing list of conflicts in which Seattle police officers have used inappropriate levels of force and violence against the people of Seattle. We pay the police to protect us. We shouldn’t have to be afraid of them- afraid that if we mishear them, or if we look at them the wrong way that we are mere moments away from physical abuse and even death.

Regardless of whether or not the community of Seattle is in a legal position to prosecute Ian Birk for homicide, it is my hope that he never again is allowed to carry a firearm, either as a civilian or as an officer. His lack of judgment and impulsive, emotional demeanor clearly demonstrate the problem inherent in our second amendment right- that firearms are used to murder far more often than they are used to defend or protect.

At the very least, I hope that Ian Birk feels the weight of remorse and guilt that he deserves for breaking the social contract and murdering a fellow human being. My fear, however, is that he does not.

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