SEATTLE — An inquest to ascertain the facts about the fatal shooting of a woman by two Seattle police officers is moving forward, according to the attorneys representing the victim’s family.
An inquest into Charleena Lyles’ death is set to happen from June 21 to July 6, as an initial pre-hearing in front of the inquest administrators was held Thursday via Zoom. However, there is a new court battle over whether the faces of the officers should be shown during the inquest, which will be livestreamed.
The hearing comes after relatives of family members killed by police won a victory at the Washington State Supreme Court in July 2021. The court set new rules for conducting inquest hearings — rules the families had pushed for.
An inquest lawsuit was pursued by the families of Lyles, Damarius Butts and Isaiah Obet. They were killed by police officers between April and June of 2017.
The families and representatives of law enforcement battled in court over King County Executive Dow Constantine’s orders that reshaped an inquest process that had frustrated families for decades.
The orders established new inquest rules that say a police officer who kills someone can be required to testify at the inquest. Inquest juries can also determine whether officers used criminal means.
On Father’s Day in 2017, Lyles, a 30-year-old mother of four, had called police to report a burglary at her apartment.
Officers who arrived at the scene said she lunged at them with a knife before she was fatally shot.
Lyles’ death sparked outrage and protest, including allegations the shooting was racially motivated because she was African American and was shot by white officers.
As Lyles’ family fought to get answers about the shooting and hold the officers accountable, the family had brought a case against the officers. Family members insisted that Lyles had mental health problems and that police failed to de-escalate the situation before shooting her.
In January 2019, the lawsuit against officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew was dismissed with prejudice by former King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector. If a case is dismissed with prejudice, it cannot be refiled.
However, the matter was appealed and reversed on Feb. 16, 2021, and remanded back to Superior Court for a Feb. 7, 2022 trial date.
However, in November 2021, the city of Seattle reached a $3.5 million settlement with Lyles’ family.
In a statement, the city said, in part, “It is indisputable that this has been a tragedy, and we are glad to have some level of closure for the parties.”
Regarding the inquest, lawyers representing the family said, “The scope of the inquest is much narrower than the civil suit. We asked that it be broad enough to show a fuller picture of Charleena Lyles’ mental health struggles, including the incident where SPD was able to de-escalate her which occurred 10 days before her fatal shooting. This request has been rejected by the city, which consults with the inquest administrator to set the parameters of the proceedings.”
During Thursday’s pre-hearing, the attorneys for the city said if the officers are shown on livestream, they could be doxxed and threatened.
The attorney for Lyles’ family argued the inquest is supposed to be public.
“To mute faces or fuzz faces out, uh, seems to me like to defeat the whole purpose of an inquest, which is any fact-finding proceeding — which is to view the credibility of a witness, which, how do you do that when you can’t see their face,” said Karen Koehler, an attorney for the Lyles family.
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