This morning, two civilians who witnessed Native American woodcarver John T. Williams shot by Officer Ian Birk while walking down a city street both testified that they saw Williams neither acting in a threatening manner nor brandishing a knife at Officer Birk.
Thomas Sirgeas was headed north on Boren Avenue (from capitol hill). He was on the northeast side of Boren—directly across the street from Officer Birk and Williams—when the altercation took place. Sirgeas testified that he could see both Birk and Williams during the shooting and his sight line was unimpeded by traffic driving by. He said he paid close attention to the incident from the time the officer turned on his car lights and exited his vehicle. Here's what he saw:
"As I’m coming down Boren," Sirgeas stated, "I notice a cop car pull up, it didn’t come all the way to the intersection, which caught my attention. I saw the officer step out of his car, gun pulled, a big bulky square gun, that really got my attention." Sirgeas said that he thought the gun was a taser. "The gun [was] pointed to the ground. I saw the victim walking on the same side of the street, headed towards downtown. He had his back to me, I thought he was a homeless person—he was wearing a big heavy jacket, walking real slow towards downtown."
"The officer then went in front of his car, raised his gun, and came on the sidewalk… he yelled twice, I didn’t hear what he said—he had his back to me—almost immediately after he yelled twice he shot three times." Sirgeas testified that he only saw Williams turn his head once—not twice, as Birk testified.
Ford: Did you ever see [Williams] turn all the way around?
Sirgeas: No. He looked over his shoulder.
Ford: Turn partially around?
Ford: Do anything aggressive?
Sirgeas: No. He was walking downtown. He never changed his speed.
Sirgeas also testified that after the shooting, Officer Birk appeared upset. "He was bouncing up on [a white retaining wall], he seemed very erratic. Very agitated. Almost like he was waiting for the guy to get back up… then I left to catch my bus. As I was getting on the bus, helicopters were going over and I realized he… more than tasered the guy."
Deanna Sebring, another civilian witness, was walking in the parking lot adjacent to the sidewalk where Williams was shot (southeast of the incident). Sebring was walking towards Williams and had a good view of him during the confrontation. "He kind of had his head down," she said. "I could see his face, but not fully… there wasn’t really any expression. It was just kind of blank." Sebring said she never saw a knife blade in Williams hand.
Ford: If there was a knife in his hand, you could’ve seen that, couldn’t you?
Ford: Did you see anything at all that seemed to indicate the officer was justified in shooting him?
Sebring: Not that I recall.
Sebring testified that she her eyes off the scene only once, and that time for less than a second. She didn't remember seeing Williams turn his head to acknowledge the officer or turn to confront him, as Birk testified. He was simply walking along the sidewalk.
Ford: Did he change that position before he was shot?
Sebring: Not that I recall.
Ford: Did he turn at all before he was shot?
Ford: [From where you were standing] You could see his chest, not his side?
Sebring: Correct...I saw blood on his shirt. I just kept walking.
Attorney Ted Buck, who's representing Birk, highlighted minor inconsistencies between the witness statements versus what was captured on Birk's in-car video: namely, Sirgeas testified that Birk yelled twice (he actually yelled three times) and that he shot three times (he shot four or five). Sebring didn't recall hearing Birk yell "Hey!" as he clearly did on the video, or motion towards Williams, which we also see on the video.
But the overarching message presented by witness testimony is that Williams wasn't acting in a threatening manner. And if he was holding an open knife, he didn't appear to be "brandishing" it at Officer Birk, as the officer testified.
Past posts on the inquest, chronologically: people praying for murder charges, protests outside the courthouse, the first day of testimony, the second day revealing that witnesses never saw aggression toward the officer, Officer Birk on the stand, followed by inconsistencies in Birk's testimony. Stay tuned.