In a Friday evening news dump, the Seattle Police Department released transcripts of interviews with the police officers who fatally shot Charleena Lyles, revealing the officers’ version of events in a case that has raised questions about racial bias, use-of-force, and mental health training among local cops.
Two white Seattle police officers shot Lyles, a black mother of four, to death on Sunday in her Sand Point apartment. Officers Steven McNew, a crisis intervention specialist, and Jason Anderson have been placed on administrative leave, per department policy.
McNew said he feared for his life before firing the fatal shots, adding that he felt like he did not have any alternative to using lethal force. Anderson said he also feared for McNew's life. Both officers also said they did not carry Tasers when the shooting happened.
Anderson is a Taser-trained officer. He told interviewers that he had stopped carrying his Taser for a week and a half to two weeks because the battery had died. He hadn't contacted anyone about replacing the battery yet, he said, and had replaced the Taser with a baton and pepper spray—both "less lethal" options.
Seattle Police Department policy requires that officers who are trained to carry Tasers must carry "less lethal tools," and that any officers trained to use a Taser must carry one as a less lethal option.
In dash cam audio, McNew can be heard telling Anderson "tase her" seconds before the officers fired. Anderson responded that he didn't have one.
Still, Anderson claimed, even if he had a Taser, he would not have used it. He claimed that the situation in Lyles' apartment amounted to a “lethal force encounter,” and that his training taught him to “rid of your Taser and go to your firearm” in such situations.
Lyles' family has questioned why the officers did not use less lethal force in their encounter. A lawyer for Charleena Lyles’ family, James Bible, did not immediately respond to The Stranger’s request for comment.
McNew’s testimony appears to corroborate parts of what happened in the minutes leading up to the shooting, as heard in previously-released dash cam audio of the encounter. The officers went into Lyles’ home to respond to a burglary call. She says that she is missing an Xbox. (According to the transcript, McNew said she also was missing a Playstation.)
McNew described a calm conversation that took a turn when Lyles produced a knife. McNew said he couldn't remember what exactly he said after he saw the knife, but believed that he said “stop” several times. The officer continued to say he ducked behind a counter after determining that Lyles was carrying the knife overhand, appearing as if she was about to throw the weapon in his direction. "She draws her arm back and I’m thinking, shit, you know she’s about to throw this thing,” McNew said in the interview.
McNew said he ducked, “expecting to feel this knife any second” before reemerging to see Lyles moving towards him. "I’m starting to think in my head, you know when she was on the other side, you know the question is, you know, do you run out?” McNew said. Ultimately, he told interviewers, he decided to stay out of concern for the children in the apartment.
McNew said that Lyles moved to a position that he felt would block him from escaping the kitchen. "And at that point fearing for what was about to happen, what she would do to me um, being stuck in that spot, I fired my handgun,” he said.
Officer Anderson, meanwhile, said that he felt like Lyles attempted to stab him. “I saw the knife coming and I sucked my body back and tried to kinda fold to avoid getting stabbed in the abdomen with the knife,” he said. He said he felt like there was no time to de-escalate the situation. “We verbalized her to get back and, um, but based on the, you know, the timing, how much time there was, there was a second or two is all," Anderson said.
City council member Lorena González today announced that the council’s public safety committee will hold a public hearing over the shooting of Lyles on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the University of Washington's Kane Hall.