Family of Charleena Lyles prepares to file civil rights, wrongful death suit against Seattle

by: KIRO 7 News Staff Updated:

The family of Charleena Lyles — shot and killed by Seattle police in June — is preparing to file a civil rights, wrongful death suit against the city of Seattle and its police department.

On Friday, Lyles father, Charles, and an attorney filed a claims form against the city as the first step in the legal process. If their claim is not resolved, they will sue the city in 60 days. 

>> Scroll down to read the latest details on the case below or click here.

Lyles called police on a June Sunday morning, reporting a burglary that included the theft of an Xbox. An audio recording indicates two officers spent about three minutes calmly speaking with Lyles, who later armed herself with two kitchen knives. Lyles, who was pregnant, had been ordered by a Seattle Mental Health Court judge to not possess weapons just weeks before the shooting.

Family members and attorneys question how police approached the incident when records showed Lyles had been struggling with mental health issues. They  "seeking justice for Charleena" and her four children.

>> Read about police use-of-force policy here. 

Here's background on the case.

About Seattle police shooting

Seattle police released video and the 911 call that Lyles made into police before she was killed in the officer-involved shooting.

The five-hour video shows Lyles in the hallway, slumping down against the wall, and then walking with a neighbor. Watch the video here.

Lyles made the 911 call at 8:55 a.m. to report a break-in at her apartment.“I walked in and noticed some stuff missing out of my house, my door was open,” she told the dispatcher in the call. Listen to the audio here.

When police first entered her apartment, responding to her call, the conversation was calm. They asked her about a video game console she reporting stolen.

>> Related: Transcripts show conversation before Charleena Lyles was shot: ‘I don't have a taser'

A transcript and audio released earlier in the week shows there was a scuffle and then 11 police commands to “get back.”

One officer said to use a TASER, a brand of stun gun, but neither officer had one. There were 14 seconds between the first command and the shots that killed Lyles. A use of force review board is expected, as is a separate use of force investigation.

According to the transcript, one of the officers also said "We need help" and they were facing "a woman with two knives."

>> Related: Hear audio and watch dashcam video from day Lyles was shot

According to the transcript Lyles also said "Get ready (expletive)."

The initial conversation between the pregnant woman and the two Seattle police officers seemed polite and calm. She let them into her apartment. They asked her about the video game console she reporting stolen.

SPD Detective Patrick Michaud said Tuesday that both officers had undergone crisis intervention training to deal with people showing signs of mental illness or other crises.

The officers are Steven McNew, hired Feb. 5, 2008, and Jason Anderson, hired April 28, 2015. Both were assigned to the North Precinct. They are on paid administrative leave, which is standard in officer shooting cases.

>> Hear audio from one of Lyles’ court hearings here

Lyles' killing came less than two weeks after authorities say she threatened officers with long metal shears when they responded to a domestic disturbance at her home. Read about that case here.

A court-appointed monitor overseeing use-of-force reforms has found that in responding to roughly 10,000 incidents a year in which people are in behavioral crisis, Seattle officers use force just 2 percent of the time. And in the vast majority of those instances, officers used the lowest level of force.

About Lyles' reported mental health decline

Lyles' cousin, Kenny Isabell, pastor of The Way of Holiness Church of God in Seattle, described Lyles as depressed but not violent. He said she "was going through some things in her life" but was working hard on improving it.

At the time of her death, Lyles had an ongoing harassment and obstruction case in Seattle Municipal Court for the June 5 incident with the long metal scissors. In that case, a judge at her bail hearing raised concerns because Lyles did not follow police commands while her 4-year-old was on her lap.  

>> Related: Lyles brandished shears in past police encounter 

City documents say that Lyles experienced a recent “rapid decline in her mental health.”

Family says Charleena Lyles, 30, was a pregnant mother of four children.

After an early-June incident where Lyles told police she wanted to “morph into a wolf,” Lyles was ordered by a Seattle Mental Health Court judge to not possess weapons. Read about that case here.

>> PHOTO: Inside Charleena Lyles' apartment weeks before police shooting

Lyles was prescribed medication, her attorney told a Seattle Mental Health Court judge, but she had not taken it because she was pregnant. 

Family reacts to shooting

Friends and family members say the 30-year-old pregnant woman shot and killed by police was so much more than authorities' account of an unstable person who confronted two officers with kitchen knives and had previous run-ins with the law.

The Seattle woman was kind and caring, and "if you met her, you would be drawn in," said her older sister, Monika Williams

>> Related: Family members: Seattle mom killed by police adored her kids

"I don't care what she was going through or what anybody was trying to bring on her, she would hit it with a smile," Williams said.

KIRO 7 News talked to Lyles’ sister, Monika Williams, the day of the shooting.

Lyles, whom relatives called "Leena," grew up in Seattle and was largely raising two boys and two girls on her own - including a 4-year girl with Down syndrome - but she had a supportive network of siblings, cousins, aunts and others, Williams said.

"Her whole life was her kids," said her father, Charles Lyles, who owns an income-tax preparation business and lives in Lancaster, California.

The youngest three children - ages 11, 4 and 1 - were home when Lyles called police Sunday morning to report a burglary.

Lyles' father, Charles, said Lyles was devastated when her mother died in 2005. She lived with various relatives over the years and with him in California, where the kids had friends up and down the street where he lived.

She didn't have a home of her own until she recently moved into the apartment complex in northeast Seattle run by the nonprofit group Solid Ground. The family lived in permanent housing set aside for those who previously were homeless.

"She was so happy to get her own home," he said.

Charles Lyles said his daughter liked to take her children to carnivals and do fun things with them. But she also worried they would be taken from her because an abusive ex-boyfriend, the father of the youngest children, was causing problems for her.

What activists, advocacy groups are saying about the shooting

Hashtags #CharleenaLyles and #SayHerName have trended on Twitter for nearly two days nationwide since the shooting.

In Seattle, advocacy groups and government leaders – including congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, mayor Ed Murray, and Seattle City Councilwoman Lorena González – have released statements questioning police tactics and system failures for people with mental health issues.

>> PHOTOS: Memorial grows outside Charleena Lyles’ apartment

Among the dozens of statements is one from the ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor, who believes the death brings an opportunity for Seattle police to re-examine its de-escalation training and use of force policies.

>> Related: When is Seattle use of force authorized under law?

“The ACLU of Washington is dismayed and heartsick at the killing of  Charleena Lyles, a mother of four and longtime Seattle resident, after she called to ask the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to protect her family and home in Magnuson Park from an attempted robbery,” she wrote. "Our heart goes out to her family, friends, and neighbors in Sand Point.”

>> Related: Hundreds rally after police shooting that killed Charleena Lyles

A memorial of flowers, signs, and photos is growing outside Lyles’ Sand Point housing complex.

A Seattle justice group called “Black Freedom Front” organized a rally mid-June called “BlackLivesMatter – March for Justice.”

Hundreds gathered at Westlake Park early in the evening to listen to speakers, one being Lyles' aunt. The protest then hit the streets.

Nearly $60,000 has been raised for Lyles’ family in a GoFundMe campaign that had a $5,000 goal.

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