Two weeks before two Seattle police officers fatally shot Charleena Lyles after she made a 911 call reporting an alleged burglary, a public defender criticized police in a Seattle courtroom for "pulling their guns" on Lyles during a domestic violence call she made on June 5, according to audio obtained from the hearing.
At a bail hearing for harassment and obstruction charges against Lyles, public defender Ashwin Kumar pointed out that the charges filed against Lyles resulted from a 911 call she made for help.
"[Police report] notes indicate this was an investigation where she is the victim of domestic violence," Kumar told the judge. "The response here is she calls for help and she gets arrested. That sounds like a big problem."
Kumar specifically took issue with police "pulling their guns" on Lyles during the domestic violence call. He added that Lyles may have been experiencing a mental health crisis at the time.
"Perhaps we'd be seeing different allegations if there had been a domestic violence investigation into whoever was there and who had been called about, rather than just focusing on pulling their guns on Ms. Lyles who is evidently alleged to have been in crisis at the time," Kumar said. "That doesn't seem like a healthy response at all for someone who calls for help."
While the incident on June 5 bears some similarities to Lyles' encounter with police two weeks later, they had wholly different results. In the police call earlier this month, an officer says he convinced Lyles to drop a pair of shears before arresting her. This Sunday, a police call to Lyles' home ended in her death.
"In our society, we are often too quick to use firearms to address our issues and that includes police officers. Ultimately, what you see is the perpetuation of an archaic system of policing, when guns are what we resort to," said James Bible, an attorney representing Lyles' family, after reviewing excerpts from a transcription of the hearing. He also took note of he took note of comments from the judges saying the incident raised mental health issues and also the concerns from the defense attorney about "pulling out guns on someone who is mentally ill."
A spokesman for the Seattle Police Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The police report of Lyles' June 5 arrest states that she allegedly threatened two police officers with “a pair of extra-long metal shears” while they responded to a domestic violence call she made at her home. The report, written by responding officer Davidson Lim, says both officers were "eight to ten" feet away from Lyles, who was sitting on a couch, and had their weapons drawn to the “low ready position” when he arrived. The suspect, allegedly a former partner of Lyles, according to her lawyer, had already fled. Lyles allegedly told the two officers that they would not be able to leave the room.
At one point, her 4-year-old daughter climbed into her lap. During this time, Lyles allegedly made statements about turning into a wolf and cloning her daughter. Lim says he eventually convinced Lyles to drop the shears and called her family, who later arrived. He arrested her and took her to the King County jail.
“After talking with Lyles' family, we learned that Lyles has experienced a recent sudden and rapid decline in her mental health,” Lim wrote. “When we explained to her family the behavior and statements Lyles made to us, they were surprised and informed us she has not had any behavior similar to this in the past.”
At the bail hearing, Kumar asked the judge to release Lyles and divert her case to mental health court. Even though the judge agreed that the incident resembled a mental health crisis, she also said she had concerns about community safety and the presence of Lyles' 4-year-old child during the incident.
Kumar responded by saying that Lyles had just been allegedly assaulted, and was likely trying to protect herself and her family. "And officers respond with force by pulling out their guns," Kumar continued. "If that's immediately following allegations of having just been assaulted, I think that's..."
"And she refused to put down the shears when they were there and told them they weren't getting out alive," the judge interrupted.
Lyles' defense attorney also pointed out that if she didn't receive bail, she wouldn't be able to pursue mental health treatment and would be at risk of losing her kids to Child Protective Services. The judge set bail at $7,500, finding that she likely to commit a violent crime based on the behavior exhibited in the police report. She also cited past fourth-degree assault cases.
Kumar did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Stranger.
Lyles’ encounter with police on June 5 triggered an “officer caution” flag when officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson responded to a burglary call at her home two weeks later. Typically, one officer responds to burglary calls, but the flag called for two officers to the scene, police officials have said. In a dash cam audio from that afternoon, the two officers can be heard referencing the incident on June 5. “So this gal, she was the one making all these weird statements about how her and her daughter are gonna turn into wolves,” Officer Anderson said.
The dashcam audio continues as the officers walk into Lyles' apartment. She says her Xbox went missing in a calm conversation with the two officers. Suddenly, things take a turn and Lyles can be heard saying, "Get ready, motherfuckers."
Seconds before the fatal shots go off, McNew can be heard telling Anderson to tase Lyles. Anderson responds that he does not have a taser on him. McNew can also be heard calling for backup, saying that Lyles is brandishing two knives.
Lyles’ family has questioned why police resorted to deadly force on Sunday, especially considering they had prior knowledge of the June 5 incident. Lyles’ sister, Monika Williams, has also criticized police officers’ response to her domestic violence allegations.
“She was asking them for help, and she wasn’t giving them none,” Williams said during a vigil on the night of her death. “That’s why the mental breakdown came into play.”
Officer McNew is a crisis intervention specialist. Both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave, per department policy.
UPDATE 6/24/2017, 1:10 p.m: A previous version of this article stated that the judge denied bail for Charleena Lyles. In fact, she set it at $7,500.