Day Three: Birk Defied Training, Never Warned Williams He Would Shoot


I'm curious why instead of trying to kill Williams, Birk didn't step backward, increasing the distance between himself and Williams to that at which a stumbling middle-aged drunk with a small knife is not a threat to a healthy young police officer with a gun.
"A threat can go from non lethal to lethal certainly in a few seconds."

Like when you're brown and a cop sees you holding something metal.
Thanks Cienna. Attorney Ford sounds like he's doing a fine job of letting Birk stumble all over himself, as that excerpt indicates.
Thank you, Cienna. I'm heartened to see such excellent coverage of this case.
The best part is when he says "We don’t decide who lives or dies."
Seriously, does anyone else listen to people yelling stuff behind them on downtown streets?

They're mostly nutters and panhandlers out to rip you off, and responding is a good way to encourage them to mess with you.

Love the coverage, Cienna.
@2 for the insightful wotd.
@5, I know! He doesn't feel he has any responsibility whatsoever, right or wrong, it wasn't even his decision! Such a bizarre thing to say.
Ford: You testified that Mr. Williams was staring right at you [when you fired]?
Birk: That’s what I recollect, yes sir.

Ford: Do you know why, then, the bullet passed through the right cheek and out his left cheek?

Great reporting on this (and many other issues), Cienna.
The only people guilty of William's death are Williiams himself and the compassionate folks that let terminally drunk Indians wander the streets. He should have put away long ago or deported back to Canada.
@8: yup, maybe birk ought to invoke the blood libel defense, or at least equivocate by saying his gun sights were merely some form of "surveyor marks" ....
@11: Right. The guy who killed Williams had nothing to do with his death.
It's pretty clear from the video that Williams was shot out of anger, not fear.
I meant "have been", not that it matters.
@13 Williams had a history of lewd conduct and belligerence toward police. Why was this useless shitbag not in jail to begin with. Birk just happens to be the last unlucky bastard who had to deal with him.
Cops lie. Film at 11.
@15: And we're just the unlucky bastards who get to deal with your bigotry and rage.
And Cienna, you do The Stranger proud. These have been outstanding deadline articles. Keep it up!
@15: Williams' past and present conduct does not remove the responsibility of his killer for his death. Birk had many options. He chose to kill Williams.
What I don't get is how an officer with all his training, experience, and sobriety is unable to react in just a few seconds yet that same officer expects someone who is intoxicated to react to his orders. It is a double standard that cops hold people to. When someone is ordered to do something they need some time to process whether or not they want to comply wiht the order. This is how it works with your parents or the police or your boss. You get a choice and you should be allowed a second to mull over that choice. He should have chose to drop the knife but was not given enough time to do so.
Robot Ghost - that kind of talk has no place in civilized discourse. Please excuse yourself from the internet.

Ford: You shot after the third order. Did Mr. Williams have time to comply between the second and third order?
Birk: Mr. Williams had ample opportunity to do a number of things preventing this situation from becoming what it ultimately became.

Classic blame the victim here. Officer Birk was the one with a gun. Officer Birk was the one in control in this situation. Officer Birk was the one who chose to confront Williams. He chose to close the distance, he chose to shoot 2 seconds after his final warning, he made every decision in this whole sad story. Officer Birk had ample opportunity to do a number of things preventing this situation from becoming what it ultimately became. This was premeditated murder.
I haven't been following this - have any other witnesses testified? Somebody must have seen the whole thing go down.
I'm inclined to disbelieve the police officer. What's changed since April 9, 1997, when a deranged man with a samurai sword was patiently kept at bay by the police in downtown Seattle for 11 hours before finally being taken peacefully into custody? The police did themselves proud in that situation.
Excellent reporting. Thank you.
It strains the bounds of logic to think that a man crossing the street, a man who was perceived by a police officer to be in an altered state—either drunk, on drugs, or mentally impaired—who was oblivious to the officer because he was preoccupied, would swing around, see that officer, and instantly assume an attack position—all in under 10 seconds. I just don't buy it.

I buy it. Many chronic drunks become instantly confrontational when interupted or questioned, especially by police.

In the past, in similar situations, Williams had spit on officers, cursed at officers, and gestured rudely at officers. He didn't like the police. Almost anyone who has interacted with Williams when he was drunk knew he could go from zero to asshole in way less than ten seconds.

I don't know if Birk needed to shoot him. I am not shocked the tiny details of his story have changed since the shooting. I have no problem imagining Williams hearing Birk, pretending to ignore him, then turning to spit, curse, gesture or worse upon the third order.

I don't know if Birk needed to shoot Williams. It sure sounds like he didn't follow proper procedure. I am unwilling - as of now - to believe Birk shot Williams because he was a Native, brown, poor, or whatever other stereotypical reasons you might suggest.
Six Shooter wrote, "I don't know if Birk needed to shoot him."

Do you think maybe Birk needed to shoot him?
Birk: Well sir, I think it’s been made very clear that the whole circumstances are troubling for everyone involved.

"troubling for everyone" . . . . I read that as Birk saying, "Yeah, I was trigger-happy and really fucked up but there's way in hell I'm going to admit it."

Cops have a very tough job and it's impossible for any of us to put ourselves in their shoes so I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt but there just seem to be too many disconnects between what Birk is claiming and what some of the facts are.
I think the only legitimate question left here is when this officer will be tried for murder.
TVDinner - the answer is NO. Manslaughter at most, but never would he found guilty. That's how it works. As long as the officer could possibly be construed to have made a dumb mistake, as opposed to a deliberate one, he will be cleared in a thousand cases out of a thousand.
@28: he won't be.

That's what amuses me about all the cop-supporters here and elsewhere getting their panties in a knot about the nasty things being said about Birk. The worst case scenario is he gets fired and gets a couple of years in the pokey. He will not face serious charges or do serious time.

Per The Seattle Times:…

The money quote:

State law shields police officers from criminal prosecution when they claim they used deadly force in self-defense, unless it can be shown they acted with malice and a lack of good faith.

In essence, if a police officer believes he was justified in using deadly force, prosecutors must overcome a steep hurdle to obtain a conviction.
"We don’t decide who lives or dies." The fuck they don't.

Ford is awesome.
As we recently learned from Oakland, a cop can shoot a man, passively lying on his stomach offering no provocation, in the back, and get two years.

Officer Birk put himself so close to John that he was forced to react instinctively. (There's been no discussion so far about what his non-violent options were, or whether he considered any. The point about the sword was spot-on.)

How will the people of Seattle ... and tourists ... feel about the presence of police downtown after this? Safer? Not I. Because I can't understand how "reasoning" or "training" led to this stupid, senseless death. And I suspect the witnesses can't either.
Lieing peice of shit...murderer buddy your a murderer, I hope you read this an know your a peice of shit'll come find yah brother, your far from outta the woods yet. You know you did wrong, I could see the worry in your face on video...peice of shit.
@6 -- My thoughts exactly. I've been a city dweller 35 years. Long ago I learned not to pay attention to people shouting at my back unless they know my name or say something like "stop! police!"

@23 -- Yes, I've often wondered what changed since 1997, when SPD behaved in such an exemplary fashion during the samurai sword standoff. Unfortunately, their good sense, compassion, and restraint were nowhere in evidence during the WTO demonstrations in 1999.

Imagine that Officer Birk evades punishment for what he did. Then our city would basically be telling us: If you're on the street or sidewalk in Seattle, cops have the right to shoot you dead at will, as long as they say afterwards that you were acting weird.

How good does that make you feel?
@26 --
I don't know. He may have been in danger. He may have thought he was in danger. No one has testified yet that Birk wasn't / couldn't have been in danger. Williams very well might have stabbed him.

We don't know.
@25, Six Shooter wrote, "I don't know if Birk needed to shoot him."

@26, I responded, "Do you think maybe Birk needed to shoot him?"

@35, Six Shooter responded, "I don't know."

Yes, you do. Either you think maybe Birk needed to shoot Williams, or you're confident that Birk did not need to shoot Williams. Unless you haven't thought about it (and by now, you surely have), you must know.

Birk may have been in danger. Birk may have thought he was in danger. Williams might have stabbed him Birk if Birk hadn't killed Williams (though it seem that this was highly unlikely, given his blood alcohol content and generally unhealthy state of being, and given Birk's training, sobriety, and youthful health). None of those questions are relevant to whether you think A) Birk did not need to shoot Williams, or B) Birk might have needed to shoot Williams.
I don't know all of the facts. I am waiting to hear what the inquest uncovers. Birk may have been in danger. He may have needed to shoot Williams.

What I don't understand is how anyone else can be so sure he wasn't in any danger.
Six shooter, I'm not asking you about the facts. I'm not asking you if Birk was or might have been in danger, only whether or not you think Birk might have needed to shoot Williams.

Now that you've answered affirmatively, I'm curious under what circumstances you think it could have been necessary for Birk to kill Williams. Could you please give some examples of situations which include that which we're able to observe in the video that result in it being necessary for Birk to kill Williams?

I've not read anyone here stating that he or she is sure that Birk was not in danger. I'm not sure he wasn't in danger. However, I strongly suspect that any danger was minimal. And I am almost positive that he did not need to shoot Williams.
If Williams had an open knife, and if Williams turned toward Birk, and if Williams moved toward Birk as if he was planning on stabbing Birk, Birk needed to shoot Williams.

With a four-inch knife, a drunk, confused, irrational Williams could have killed or seriously injured a fit, agile, athletic Birk.

In hindsight, Birk should have done a million things differently before, during, and after this encounter with Williams.
@39: I disagree. If Williams moved toward Birk as if he was planning on stabbing Birk, I think Birk needed to move away from Williams, but not that Birk needed to kill him. But if that happened, I could probably be convinced that Birk truly acted out of self defense, and maybe that killing Williams was justified. Maybe. Regardless, I understand your reasoning now and thank you for engaging in this discussion.
I am 61 years old, a 5' 5" woman, a bookworm with a desk job all my life and not in good health. I have been in dangerous situations with drunks before. And I *know* that if John T. Williams, in a drunken rage, had charged me with a knife from nine feet away, while I was already looking straight at him and alert, I would have had plenty of time to get out of his way.

Police officers should be held to a higher standard than civilians are. If officer training cannot prepare a man to handle a sick old drunk with a three-inch knife without escalating to a deadly confrontation, then Seattle police department training is very bad.

We do our police no service by saying "We will excuse any behavior if you tell us you were scared." For their safety as well as our own, we need to raise the standards at the SPD.
@1, Birk said in court that he was afraid to move back in case he might fall over with a loaded gun!!!!! This guy can't move in a backward motion without falling over? WTF is he, a Weeble????
And sixshitter must be in GREAT shape, with all the stretching he does. Look, Mr. Copman, the knife was NOT four inches, for one thing, it was the legal length. and as #41 says, even in her state of health, she could get out of Williams' way should he suddenly turn Ninja. If he was as drunk as Birk assumed he was, he probably could have just tripped him. You apparently have ZERO TRUST IN EYEWITNESSES, so many eyewitnesses that CONTRADICT Birk's statements. Except for those on Birk's side, of course. How so many cops and EMTs saw the blade open when it was photographed closed is amazing. But your defense of Birk is absolutely laughable! Maybe YOU should be his attorney, you're as much a fool as he is! "Suppose he had an army of ninja bunnies hiding in his shirt, that all have FOUR inch, illegal knives, that jumped out and surrounded Birk!!!"