Inquest order after Seattle police shooting of Charleena Lyles

by: Casey McNerthney Updated:

UPDATE, OCT. 17, 2017: An inquest into the fatal police shooting of Charleena Lyles was ordered Tuesday by King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Inquests, in which jurors answer dozens of questions about the circumstances of a death, are routinely requested by county executives after police shootings. 

The inquest does not determine whether the officers are criminally or civilly liable, though prosecutors factor results of questions from inquest hearings in their charging decisions.

Lyles was fatally wounded June 18 in a confrontation with Seattle police. Details of the incident and what preceded it are below.  
 

ORIGINAL Q AND A: Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old woman who had recently been ordered to undergo mental health treatment, was fatally shot in a confrontation with police officers Sunday, June 18.

Officers said Lyles was armed with two kitchen knives and in audio of the incident she is heard saying, “Get ready, motherf---ers.”

Her family has raised questions about why Lyles was shot instead of being controlled with nonlethal force. Police are conducting a review of the case, and a shooting inquest is expected.

Below are questions and answers about Lyles’ shooting and what happened prior to her death. 

Who was the woman involved?
Charleena Chavon Lyles, age 30.
 
Who were the officers?
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.
 
Where and when did the incident happen?
6818 62nd Ave. N.E., unit 4303. Officers prepared to go into the residence at 9:42 a.m. The shooting happened at 9:49 a.m. The apartment complex, Brettler Family Place 3, is a low-income housing facility. The shooting was inside the apartment unit.
 
Was Lyles armed?
She had two knives, police said. They were kitchen knives, but not butter knives – more substantial, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said. 
 
Did either officers have a TASER (a nonlethal stun gun)? 
No. 
 
Did the officers undergo training for people with mental health issues?
Yes. Both officers went through crisis intervention training to deal with people showing signs of mental illness or other crises. One was CIT trained and one was CIT certified, which is a higher level of training, Detective Patrick Michaud said. 
 
Did the officers have other nonlethal weapons?
Yes, O’Toole said. Officers are required to carry a less-lethal option and have a choice between a Taser, baton or pepper spray, Michaud said. But he did not know which option the officers had as of Tuesday afternoon. 
 
It also was not clear if the non-lethal options were available quickly. Those details are expected in a use of force investigation and a shooting inquest.
 
How fast did the scene unfold?
Police asked to enter the apartment for the burglary report and talked to Lyles for about two minutes before the confrontation. 
 
The officers made 11 statements for Lyles to “get back.” One also told the other to use a TASER, but the second officer replied he didn’t have one. Lyles can be heard telling the officers to “Get ready, motherf---ers.” After that, one of the officers radios for help saying there is a woman with two knives. Previously the other officer asked for fast backup, a term that is a priority for officers to provide immediate help.
 
From the first command to “get back” to the point that shots are fired is 14 seconds.  
 
How many shots were fired?
Seven shots, according to the audio and the King County Medical Examiner's report released August 30 by attorneys for the Lyles family. Lyles was shot in the front and then in the back.
 
What led to that specific police contact?
The two officers responded to the report of a burglary at the apartment.  They entered and Lyles told how she left the door unlocked when she went to the store, and some things were taken. Items taken included an X-Box. After discussing the X-Box, there is a scuffle heard on the audio and a child crying. Officers follow with commands to get back, and then the shooting happened.
 
Why did two officers respond to a burglary report instead of one?
While property crimes reports typically require only one officer to be dispatched, two officers were dispatched to this call because of a recent officer safety caution associated with Lyles, police said.
 
Did both officers fire?
Yes. It’s unclear exactly how many shots were fired. That detail, and elements of training, are expected to be reviewed in the use of force review and the shooting inquest, which are standard in officer-involved shootings. 
 
Were the officers wearing body camera?
No. But they did have microphones that captured the incident. That audio is below.
 
Why don't Seattle Police have body cameras?
There's money budgeted for body cameras, but the city has not reached an agreement with the police union on how they will be implemented. Some bicycle officers have been wearing cameras but they are not yet in widespread use.
 
Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell says he wants body cameras, and says the implementation delay is an example of "Seattle process, as far as I'm concerned, at its worst."
 
The ACLU is among the organizations urging caution in how they are implemented, asking for protocols that make sure the focus is on police accountability, rather than making cameras crime fighting tools that make people distrustful of police.
 
"If you do it the wrong way you actually make the problem worse," Shankar Narayan of the ACLU said. "You actually risk exacerbating the violence that can happen between community members and police."
 
Do you have a transcript of what happened during the June 18 incident? 
 
 
Were police aware of Lyles’ mental health?
Yes, one of the officers on the call briefed the other officer on a previous case, and there was an officer safety caution associated with her at the apartment.
 
“After talking with Lyles’ family, we learned that Lyles had experienced a recent sudden and rapid decline in her mental health,” another officer wrote in a report for a June 5 incident at Lyles’ apartment. “When we explained to her family the behavior and statements Lyles made to us, they were surprised and informed us she has not had any behavior similar to this in the past. Lyles’ family is concerned for her and they have a strong desire to stabilize her mental health condition before it gets worse.”
 
What do we know about the officers?
KIRO 7 found two documents commending Officer Steven McNew. He was one of three officers recognized in 2011 for responding to an incident involving a person armed with a knife threatening suicide. 
 
Another document shows McNew listed as "Best Overall" in his 2008 class at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. 
 
A police spokesman said he could not give details on previous discipline for either officer, or if any occurred.
 
What kind of review will be held by the Seattle City Council?
Councilmember Lisa Herbold promised a public hearing about the case, but says on June 21 she is still working out details.
 
"I think it will be a useful exercise for members of the public to face elected officials and ask questions," Herbold told KIRO 7.
 
What other reviews are planned?
The information below is from Pierce Murphy, Director of the Office of Professional Accountability: 
 
The SPD Force Investigation Team (FIT) is conducting an investigation as required by protocols put into place under the Department of Justice's Settlement Agreement with the City of Seattle. These policies and protocols require SPD to fully investigate and critically analyze every officer-involved shooting before determining whether or not to refer it to OPA for potential disciplinary recommendations.  
 
The FIT investigation can take anywhere from 60-90 days or longer (if extensions are granted due to the complexity of the event). The results of FIT's investigation is then reviewed by the Force Review Board (FRB) to determine compliance with SPD training and policy - including biased policing, use-of-force and de-escalation polices. Any conduct the FRB concludes may have been in violation of SPD policy is automatically referred to OPA.  
 
We ask for your patience as the Force Investigation Team completes its investigation and the Force Review Board reviews the evidence.
 
What do we know about Lyles’ previous incidents with police?
 
In that case, Lyles was charged with two counts of harassment and one count of obstruction. Lyles, who called police to report a domestic disturbance, was found and “had armed herself with a pair of extra long metal shears and was threatening the officers,” according to an incident report. 
 
Police, who described Lyles in the report as either hallucinating or delusional and “out of touch with reality,” said she told them “Ain’t none of y’all leaving her here today!” 
 
Her 4-year-old child was near Lyles when she initially refused to drop the scissors. Police described it as a tense situation.
 
“She also made several unusual religious comments talking about how police officers were devils and also members of the KKK,” according to the incident report.
 
In that June 5 incident, police responded to look for the suspect in the reported domestic disturbance. A suspect was not located, and the report does not indicate that Lyles was the victim of physical domestic violence in that incident. 
 
Her defense attorney told a judge at her June 6 bail hearing that she was assaulted by the father of her oldest child the day before that bail hearing.
 
Lyles has criminal history including assault convictions from 2014 and 2009. She also was convicted of felony robbery in 2004, malicious mischief in 2003 and theft in 2003.  
 
A 2008 story in the Federal Way Mirror featured Lyles and said she received a job through a program for at-risk youth. 
 
Was there an effort to keep Lyles under watch after her June 5 arrest?
Yes. An assistant city attorney told a judge he was concerned about the current incident report and her previous assault convictions and asked that Lyles be held on $7,500 bail. 
 
Lyles’ defense attorney said she was getting mental health treatment and said the June 5 incident “was more of a mental health crisis,” but argued for her release. Lyles’ attorney asked for the case to go to Mental Health Court, which is part of Seattle Municipal Court. 
 
Was anyone alarmed by the June 5 incident?
The judge at Lyles' bail hearing raised concerns when her defense attorney asked for Lyles' immediate release.
 
“This is an extremely volatile situation that was here, and I’m incredibly alarmed by the presence of the 4-year-old during this incident and what happened,” the judge said. “I agree and hear what you’re saying, it does seem like a crisis or a break. But the fact that she’s engaged in mental health treatment and this still happened causes me extreme concern for community safety.”
 
The judge also noted that police did not pull their weapons in that case until they encountered Lyles with the long scissors in her hand and the 4-year-old on her lap. She granted the city’s request for a $7,500 bail.
 
Listen to the audio from that court hearing below.
 
 
What happened next in that case?
Lyles appeared in Seattle’s Mental Health Court on June 13, five days before the shooting. Her court case was ongoing at the time of her death. 
 
Why was Lyles released instead of being held for mental health treatment?
At that June 13 hearing in Mental Health Court, both her attorney and an assistant city attorney on the case agreed on her conditions of release. That was approved by a judge at the hearing. 
 
Child Protective Services encouraged Lyles to get a mental health evaluation as part of a parenting plan, her attorney said. She was required to go to the day reporting office for Valley Cities Counseling every Tuesday and Thursday. She also was required to avoid alcohol and drugs, and was subject to random testing. 
 
The judge who agreed to her release following the agreement from both attorneys also ordered Lyles not to have anything that could be used as a weapon. 
 
What were the conditions of release? 
Follow this link to read the conditions of release from Mental Health Court, part of Seattle Municipal Court. She was required to go to the day reporting office for Valley Cities Counseling every Tuesday and Thursday. She also was required to avoid alcohol and drugs, and was subject to random testing. A judge also ordered her not to have anything that could be used as a weapon.
 
Is there audio or video of that June 13 court hearing?
Yes. Audio is below.
 
 
Was Lyles pregnant?
Yes, her attorney told the Seattle Mental Health Court judge on June 13. The child would have been Lyles' fifth.
 
Was she on medication?
No, not as of June 13. Lyles was prescribed medication, her attorney told a Seattle Mental Health Court judge, but she had not taken it because she was pregnant. The attorney did not specify which medications Lyles was prescribed. 
 
What led to the prescription?
Her attorney on June 13 said she did not know, and family has not specified. 
 
What was the judge told about her alcohol and drug use?
Lyles had been using methamphetamine, but completed a chemical dependency assessment, and had not used meth in more than five months, her attorney told the judge on June 13. Lyles planned to resume outpatient chemical dependency treatment through Valley Cities Counseling. Lyles hadn’t drank alcohol in more than three months, but knows she needs to be part of a sober support group, her attorney told the judge. It was not clear if Lyles was under the influence during the June 18 fatal incident with police. 
 
Where were Lyles’ children?
On June 5, police were told Lyles had a younger son at the Childhaven facility on Broadway in Seattle, and two older children in elementary school. A fourth child, who police said had an apparent developmental disability, was with Lyles when the officers went to her apartment that day. 
 
At the June 13 court hearing, Lyles’ attorney said her children were staying with family members. Child Protective Services came to see her when she was in custody and encouraged her to get a mental health evaluation as part of a parenting plan, the attorney said. 
 
During Lyles June 18 encounter with police, there were three children inside the apartment. 
 
What video and audio was released in the shooting incident?
 
What’s the response from Seattle’s mayor? 
“Today’s incident is a tragedy for all involved,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement. “My thoughts are with the many people impacted, including three children and the responding officers.” Read Murray’s full statement here.
 
What did Lyles’ family say after the shooting?
Lyles’ sister, Monika, said she suffered from mental health issues, but was not a threat.
 
"What is she going do to all you police?" Williams asked at the apartment the day of the shooting. "You big ass men? I can take her down. I know you can."
 
"There's no reason for her to be shot in front of her babies.”
 
What statements have police given about the shooting?
 
When was this Q and A last updated? 
August 30, 2017.
 
KIRO 7 reporters Graham Johnson and Joanna Small contributed to this report. 
 

 

Next Up: