Williams' Family Attorney: Birk Can Be Prosecuted for Murder Under State Law

Comments

1
Murder charges? Thats a tall order. It would be more realistic to charge him with 2nd degree manslaughter.
2
"Why shouldn’t a jury decide that?"

Because first a prosecutor has a duty to find probable cause before bringing charges. If Birk thought he was justified in shooting him, even if he was completely off base(which he was) that cuts strongly against malice. The Inquest panel was split on that question with 4 yeses and 4 unknowns.

I would love to see him prosecuted, but as they say, the law is the law. It should be changed, but it is what it is.
3
@1 there are many degrees of murder just like there are many degrees of manslaughter.

Since he approached intending to kill and closed the distance, murder (to a lesser degree) is appropriate.

Although Execution of Non-White People could also be used.
4
i agree--the malice in birk was abvoius--he pulled jtw over out of malice, approached him full of malice, yelled at him with malice, and murdered him with malice. THE MALICE IN BIRK WAS CLEAR AS A MURDEROUS BELL--there is no denying that tape.
5
Proving malice is extremely difficult -- it's a state of mind, and it has to be proven by what came before the murder, not the fact of the murder itself.

It would be worse than no charge at if the County prosecuted and a jury wouldn't convict because they weren't unanimous. A civil jury doesn't have to be unanimous, and since the attorneys are private, it doesn't get charged to the taxpayers. Let this guy get dragged through the mill in a trial where we don't have to pay for his prosecution.
6
@2

Again, if the law were The Law then their would be no need for the courts. It is not an absolute, no matter how hard you stamp your feet yelling that it is so.

It is also a huge leap in logic to assume that Mr. Satterberg's decisions are based solely on the law. His office is a political office, whether you like it or not. His decisions will always be affected by the various power-brokers in the county and popular perception.
7
If you couldn't get an inquest jury to agree that shit was afoul by simply watching that tape, you're not going to get a jury to determine malice where the evidence is solely a cop being a cop (who starts shooting after 4 seconds).
8
@6 Who said its an absolute? There is plenty of room for debate in the law, but there are also things clearly outside a statute and this is one of those.

We do not have courts to simply throw things at an see if it sticks. It is the duty of every attorney, but especially prosecutors to only bring actions if they have grounds to do so. You dismiss his opinion, but he was elected to do this job, and if, in his opinion, a crime has not been committed, then he is duty bound to not prosecute.

If anything the public seems wanting a trial on this. By declining he is going to have a tougher time with re-election then if he gave into the pressure and tried him.
9
Did I miss a discussion about the possibility of a manslaughter prosecution? I'm no legal scholar, but...

"A person is guilty of manslaughter in the first degree when:
(a) He recklessly causes the death of another person;"

Can anyone with a good understanding of the RCW show why or why not this should be an option?
10
He sure as heck was reckless.
11
@9 - Read the many SLOG posts over the last few days for your explanation, or just read Satterberg's press release. Short-story-made-shorter, police officers are protected from all criminal liability, not merely "murder"
12
Recall Dan Satterberg, apologist for the murdering cop Ian Birk

http://www.flickr.com/photos/soggydan/54…

13
@11 - thanks for clarifying; I was reading the "malice" bit of Satterberg's justification as pertaining only to a murder charge, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

Damn.
14

I contrasted this case with the Palatine slaying over in Publicola.

In the Palatine case, justice was done against the murderer ( a citizen, not a cop ) even though the citizen felt he was acting in a "defensive" (retributional) manner.

However, there was no public outcry in defense (or for) Mr. Palatine by the mainstream press, the blog press and there certainly weren't any marches decrying the violence.
15
@6: It really is pretty cut-and-dry:
"A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section."

"Malice" is defined as such:
"(12) "Malice" and "maliciously" shall import an evil intent, wish, or design to vex, annoy, or injure another person. Malice may be inferred from an act done in wilful disregard of the rights of another, or an act wrongfully done without just cause or excuse, or an act or omission of duty betraying a wilful disregard of social duty;"

You'd have to convince an entire jury of 12 that Birk's actions went pretty far beyond negligence. The prosecutor (correctly, IMO) decided that wasn't a realistic outcome. This decision is backed by the the results of the public inquest where half of the jurors thought that Birk believed there to be a threat, half said it was unknown, with zero out of eight finding that Birk believed there to be no threat - the finding that all 12 would have to come to in order to convict in a criminal setting.

That said, I also think that the protections for officers from the legal consequences from this sort of gross negligence is far too over-reaching. Even so, the prosecutors have to act within the bounds of the law, too.
16
Also, the statement says that "[...the] Legislature said when it passed that law that it was trying to make clear that police officers are more restricted in their use of deadly force for self-defense, as compared to ordinary citizens." Can anyone find the source he's using on that statement? I don't see any way to interpret it besides the exact opposite of that. I'm genuinely interested to see it.
17
Doceb @ 15 - see Ford's statement:

"During the inquest, his office’s position was that those answers had no legal effect. Because of that, the jury was given no legal guidelines, heard from no use of force experts and was never given any summary of the evidence and what it showed. Mr. Satterberg’s use of these findings to justify what he wants to do is duplicitous, and it shows how badly flawed the King County inquest system has become."
18
@17: okay, I'll retract "backed by" and replace it with "illustrated by." It doesn't show that Birk was without malice, nor do the results of the inquest tie the hands of the prosecutor. It absolutely does illustrate how difficult it would be to convince a jury of 12 unanimously of the opposite of the findings of the entire inquest jury.
19
@5: It will cost the tax payers because Birk has nothing to sue for. It's the department and the city that will end up paying the big bucks if there's a civil suit.
20
Lack of evidence of absence of malice does not equal evidence of malice. No positive evidence of malice, no case.
21
Malice may be inferred from an act done in wilful disregard of the rights of another, or an act wrongfully done without just cause or excuse, or an act or omission of duty betraying a wilful disregard of social duty
22
@16: It's part of the bill that was passed. This "Legislative Recognition" at the bottom of the RCW section online:

"The legislature recognizes that RCW 9A.16.040 establishes a dual standard with respect to the use of deadly force by peace officers and private citizens, and further recognizes that private citizens' permissible use of deadly force under the authority of RCW 9.01.200, 9A.16.020, or 9A.16.050 is not restricted and remains broader than the limitations imposed on peace officers." [1986 c 209 § 3.]
23
@22: thanks! That's exactly what I was looking for.
24
@20, malice isn't a requirement for there to be a case. 9A.16.040 says "A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section.". So this is saying that *both* the lack of malice *and* that he honestly believed that the shooting was justifiable pursuant to 9A.16.040.

Satterberg (in the PDF twists the second half around to say that there's no way you could convince a jury that he had a "dishonest or unlawful purpose ("bad faith")" using deadly force.

But the statute isn't talking about a "bad faith" shooting, it's talking about a good/bad faith "belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section." I think a "bad faith belief" would be the kind when you screwed up, shot a guy, and only now retroactively believe that it was a good idea. If there's a reasonable possibility that that's the case, then it seems like this should go to trial for a jury to decide.
25
Just to be clear, "good faith belief" isn't really about "belief" in an abstract sense, it's more like the sort of thing that you see tested in court when a lawyer says, "Now, Mr ______, can you say that you honestly believe that ____________" and there are snickers or muttering to Mr ______'s response because everyone knows that he can't really believe that.
26
Fuck it. I say we all carry torches to his house and lynch him in the town square.
27
Fully agree with Tim, the question of malice needs to go in front of a judge and a jury with expert testimony which will provide for expert evaluation of the intent of the law. There are multiple charges that could be made against Birk and they should all be objectively explored. IMO murderous intent (or an unbalanced mind...) seems like the most reasonable explanation for John's death.
28
This murder has impacted the community far and wide. People know there is something wrong after all the senseless violence at the hands of Seattle Police as well as cops all over this country. Precedents must be set holding killers accountable even tho they enjoy the impunity of being part of police force. Time to stop death squad behavior. Long overdue.