On April 29, the city agreed to pay $1.5 million to the family of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams, who was fatally shot by a Seattle police officer last August. Williams was crossing Boren Avenue east of downtown with a small carving knife when an officer chased him down, firing several rounds at close range. The Seattle Police Department found in February that the shooting was unjustified.
"We would always rather settle than go to trial," explains city attorney spokeswoman Kimberly Mills, who acknowledged that the department's unjustified ruling contributed to the decision. An attorney representing the Williams family had approached City Attorney Pete Holmes several months ago to discuss the family's potential claim. Following mediation, Holmes smartly offered the settlement.
The financial agreement, which will go to Williams's estate and toward the care of his mother, protects the city from future lawsuits. But whether former officer Ian Birk will face criminal charges for Williams's death remains in question. Federal prosecutors are currently determining if Birk could be charged with violating Williams's civil rights. The Williams family has also asked that King County Superior Court judges convene a citizen grand jury, after the King County prosecuting attorney declined to press charges in February.