Seattle Cop Resigns After Native American Man’s Killing Ruled Unjustified

Will Seattle District Attorney Dan Satterberg ever hold police officers accountable for misconduct?

By Julianne Hing Feb 17, 2011

On August 30 of last year John T. Williams, who was deaf in one ear and ill at the time, was shot to death by a Seattle police officer. Williams, a Native American carver who made a living selling his traditional carvings at Seattle’s Pike Place market, was killed because he reportedly refused to drop a knife and piece of wood he was carrying. On Wednesday afternoon Seattle police officer Ian Birk resigned hours after the Seattle Police Department’s Firearms Review Board called the shooting unjustified, Seattle’s KIROTV reported.

Birk likely quit preemptively. Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer, a member of the review board wrote: "First and foremost, as a result of these findings and recommendations, Officer Birk must remain stripped of all Seattle Police powers and authority."

Birk resigned on the same day King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced that Birk would not face any criminal charges for killing Williams. Birk said that he feared for his life, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, and Birk’s attorney maintained that in order for the police officer to be charged, Birk had to have displayed some malice. Satterberg agreed.

"What the state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that the officer was not telling the truth, that he did not really feel like he was in danger and that when he … exited his car to go encounter this individual, he had every intent to kill him no matter what," Satterberg said, KIROTV reported.

Satterberg is the same prosecutor who refused to file both criminal charges, and separate hate crime charges, against Officer Shandy Cobane, who was caught on video stomping on a Latino man and shouting racial obscenities at him last year.

An inquest done earlier this year into Williams’ killing was split, the Seattle P-I reported. Four out of eight jurors said they believed Birk felt that Williams posed a threat to him. The other four said they couldn’t tell if Williams did. On a separate question they answered only one juror said they believed Williams actually did pose a threat.

Williams’ friends said at the time that he was deaf in one ear and weakened by years of illness and alcoholism. Birk fired four rounds at Williams from nine feet away. Williams’ death sparked community outrage and protest at the time it happened and as each of these attempts at demanding accountability have fizzled.