The long-delayed inquest into the 2017 death of Charleena Lyles is facing further delays as the city asks for the inquest to be put on hold while a separate civil case filed by the Lyles family against the city is under appeal.
Michael Spearman, the state appeals court judge overseeing the Lyles inquest, said at a pre-inquest hearing Tuesday that he didn’t expect the inquest to begin until 2020.
Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, was killed inside her Northeast Seattle apartment by two Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers in June of 2017, prompting local protests and nationwide attention to the killing. Inquest hearings are the county’s official fact-finding tribunals, aimed at uncovering the facts and possible lessons from instances in which cops kill people.
The Lyles family said after Tuesday’s hearing that they were angry the city is trying to further delay the case.
“How long does her life need to be on a stay?” asked Tonya Isabell, Lyles's first cousin. “She’s dead. She’s a person who lost her life, so can we get this process going?”
Corey Guilmette, one of the attorneys for the Lyles’ family, said the city didn’t file their motion to delay the inquest—called a stay—until a day before Tuesday's hearing.
“The city unfortunately waited until the 11th hour to file a motion to stay,” Guilmette said. “As a result, we now have to deal with that. We could have dealt with it two weeks ago, two months ago, when the inquest was called. Instead we are dealing with it today.”
The city asked Spearman to delay the inquest hearing because the city is currently a defendant in a separate civil case that the Lyles family has filed against the two officers and the city. A King County judge dismissed the civil case against the officers in January but that case was appealed. The case is currently on hold while that appeal is decided.
Dan Nolte, a spokesperson for the city attorney's office, said the city's request is in alignment with how the inquest into Tommy Le, an unarmed 20-year-old who was killed by King County Sheriffs in June of 2017, was also delayed.
“Just as the Tommy Le inquest was stayed to allow resolution of civil litigation from that incident, we’re seeking a temporary stay in this inquest so only one fact finding expedition occurs at a time," Nolte said in an e-mail.
Guilmette said: “Our hope is that the inquest takes place as soon as possible, we have done everything in our power to help move it along."
Lyles was killed in June of 2017 after she called the police to report a burglary at her apartment in Northeast Seattle. When officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew arrived they found Lyles at her apartment with three of her four children and began investigating the burglary. After a matter of minutes, Lyles pulled a knife out of her coat and an altercation erupted between Lyles and the two officers, according to an internal SPD investigation. Anderson told SPD investigators that Lyles attempted to stab him with a knife and McNew said on his radio that “We need help. We got a woman with two knives.”
McNew told Anderson to use his Taser but Anderson had left the less lethal device in his police locker. About 20 seconds after Lyles pulled out the knife the two officers opened fire, shooting the pregnant mother seven times, according to SPD’s internal review. McNew said he was three feet away from Lyles when he fired his weapon. Lyles immediately fell to the ground and Lyles’ infant child climbed onto her back while the two officers continued to point their weapons at the woman, according to SPD’s internal report.
Inquest hearings are official fact finding tribunals where witnesses are called and a jury is selected but no criminal convictions or civil settlements are decided. Instead, the jury is asked to answer a set of questions about the incident at the end of the process. The Lyles inquest is the second to begin since King County Executive Dow Constantine put a stop to all inquest hearings in January of 2018 after the police-reform community said the process was slanted in favor of cops.
Constantine unveiled a new inquest hearing process this April that changed the scope of the hearings to include not only the facts of the case, but to also ask whether law enforcement policies should be changed because of the death in question.