Charleena Lyles was shot seven times by Seattle Police officers at her Sand Point apartment in June, according to an autopsy report presented to reporters by attorneys representing Lyles’ father.
The report from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office also shows that Lyles, a black mother of four, was 14 to 15 weeks pregnant with a male fetus when she died. A toxicology report shows that Lyles did not have any trace of illegal drugs, medication or alcohol in her system.
Of the bullets fired by officers Steve McNew and Jacob Anderson, the report shows that two entered Lyles through her abdomen and grazed her uterus before lodging in her pelvis. Another two bullets went through Lyles’ back. The remain three bullets struck her chest, hip and right arm. The report does not specify the order of shots.
Travis Jameson, one of the attorneys representing the estate of Lyles, emphasized that Lyles was “just barely over 5 feet tall and weighing 100 pounds with a four-month-old” fetus. Both officers are about a foot taller.
“She was shot seven times. Seven times. That’s troubling. That should be troubling to everyone who hears that. This isn’t an individual that was filled with drugs that would make them unpredictable, incredibly strong,” Jameson said, alluding to the toxicology report. “She had nothing in her system.”
Attorneys handed the documents to reporters today with permission from Charles Lyles, Charleena’s father. “Releasing all this is because we believe in transparency,” said Jameson. Charles Lyles was not present at the press conference.
“On behalf of the estate, I can tell you Mr. Lyles is so hurt,” said Karen Koehler, another attorney representing Charleena Lyles’ estate. “He didn’t know he was going to have a male grandbaby. He’s finding that out from coroner’s reports. He didn’t know the details of this.”
McNew and Anderson, both white police officers, fatally shot Lyles at her apartment on June 18 after responding to a burglary call that she placed. The officers claim she picked up a knife, causing them to fear for their safety. Lyles’ death has led to marches and renewed calls to strengthen the state’s police accountability laws.
“The question should be what failures from an institutional standpoint occurred that placed the officers and Ms. Lyles in that unfortunate situation that ended with a preventable tragedy,” Jameson said.
Both officers knew that Lyles had a history of mental health issues and had an encounter with police weeks before her death. During that incident, Lyles threatened officers with shears, but the officers de-escalated the situation and arrested her. Neither officers who shot Lyles carried a Taser, despite Anderson being trained to use the device. Anderson has stated that he left his Taser in his locker because it had run out of batteries. Seattle Police policy requires officers who are trained to use Tasers to carry them when on duty.
Jameson also criticized the Seattle Police Officers Guild for holding up a plan to equip officers with body cameras. “If we had body cameras in this case, we would know exactly what happened,” he said.
Charles Lyles earlier this month filed a claim with the City of Seattle over his daughter’s death, the first step towards filing a civil lawsuit.
Not all of Lyles' family approved the release of the autopsy. An attorney representing three siblings and two cousins issued a statement hours after the press conference denouncing "reckless conduct" from Charles Lyles' lawyers that "placed Charleena's children in a position of possibly having to hear about details of their mother's killing on the news or at school without any preparation." The statement from attorney Corey Guilmette says none of the family members he represents were consulted prior before the public release.
"Regrettably, the situation has devolved into one in which a single family member has attempted to seize the reins and usurped the voices and interests of the entire rest of Charleena's family," said Guilmette, an attorney with the Public Defender Association.
After seeing Guilmette's statement, Koehler forwarded an email exchange between the two attorneys that took place this morning in which she notifies Guilmette that she obtained the medical examiner's report and urges him to tell Lyles' family. Guilmette responds that the family already had met with the medical examiner.
"Mr. Guilmette is not involved in the civil wrongful death case," Koehler wrote in a statement to media. "Mr. Guilmette is mistaken in thinking that we need to get permission from the Public Defenders Association with respect to our handling of the civil case."
This post was updated with information from a press conference and a statement from an attorney representing Lyles' siblings and cousin. It was subsequently updated to include a response statement from the attorney representing Lyles' father.