Inquest jury starts deliberations in Seattle woman’s death by police

Yakima County Sheriff's Office investigates death

SEATTLE (AP) — An inquest jury has started deliberations into the actions of two Seattle police officers who fatally shot a Black pregnant mother of four in her apartment.

The jury will weigh responses of “Yes,” “No,” or “Unknown” to 123 questions relating to the circumstances surrounding the death of Charleena Lyles on June 18, 2017, The Seattle Times reported.

She was killed after purportedly brandishing a knife at officers who had responded to her report of a burglary. The 30-year-old mother of four was four months pregnant when officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew, who are white, shot her seven times in her northeast Seattle apartment.

The officers testified that Lyles went from conversational to confrontational in seconds, pulling a knife from her pocket and advancing. Officers said they drew their guns and repeatedly ordered “Get back!” before firing.

The shooting death of Lyles unleashed a storm of public protest and has been held up by advocates of police reforms as demonstrating unnecessary police violence and institutional racism by law enforcement.

Audio of the shooting was recorded via microphones synced to the officer’s in-car video system.

Lyles yelled “Do it!” and profanities at the officers before they fired at her. Questions about her mental health had been raised after a police call nearly two weeks earlier in which she threatened another officer with a pair of shears.

Family members have questioned why the officers, who had been trained to deal with people showing signs of mental illness or other behavior crises, didn’t use nonlethal methods to subdue her.

Anderson didn’t have his Taser with him and was later suspended for two days without pay for violating department policy.

Three of Lyles’ children were in the apartment at the time, and the officers testified about a crying infant who crawled on his mother’s body and a boy who came out of a bedroom and said, in tears, “You shot my mother.”

Inquest jurors in the Lyles case will be asked to consider the facts surrounding her death in light of the police deadly force statute that was in effect in 2017, which requires a finding of “actual malice” by the officer — a standard that was changed in 2018 by voter approval of Initiative 940, after prosecutors and lawmakers concluded it was virtually impossible to meet that standard to charge an officer with murder.

The inquest jury can determine if law enforcement violated any policies and potentially any criminal laws. But any decision to charge a police officer is made by the King County prosecutor.