Day One of the public inquest hearing into the shooting death of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams at the hands of Officer Ian Birk rehashed for six pairs of fresh jury eyes much of what has already been reported on in the media: That Officer Ian Birk fired his department issued, semi-automatic Glock five times at Williams at 4:12 p.m. on August 30, mere seconds after Williams crossed in front of Birk's patrol car on Boren Avenue, headed west bound on Howell Street.
But small details teased out by Melinda Young, a King County prosecutor, when questioning Detective Jeff Mudd, the lead homicide investigator into the incident, paint a more complete picture of the event. For instance, the pavement on that August afternoon was hot and dry, better preserving the crime scene than rainy weather would have. The jury saw Birk's (incomplete) in-car patrol footage, which shows Williams crossing the street but fails to conclusively show he was flashing a knife while doing so. "We took it to [a private video production company]," explained Det. Mudd, "They tried to enhance it, the bigger they tried to make it, it pixelates. Just squares of color. The bigger you try to make it, the bigger those squares get.”
Jurors were also shown a second dashboard video—which has not been made public—taken from the first-responding patrol car on scene. Unlike Birk's footage, this video, which takes place less than two minutes after the shooting, captures Williams in its sightline. It shows Williams lying prone on the sidewalk with Birk standing a few feet away, still training his weapon on Williams. It then shows no fewer than nine officers approaching Williams in two tight lines and flipping his body over. It shows a quick pat down and then the dispersal of most of the officers.
Today we learned that after his death, officers found a second knife concealed in Williams' pocket.
These are small details, sure, but they will help a six-member jury answer 16 key questions about the circumstances of WIlliams' death, reportedly by the end of the week (more on that here).
Here are a few other details stressed by Ford’s line of questioning: Officer Birk did not call for backup. The time it takes between Birk’s three rapid-fire orders at Williams to “put the knife down” to when Birk opens fire is 4.6 seconds—a questionable amount of time to process and obey such an order for anyone, let alone a reportedly half-deaf man.
Ford also made Mudd test the locking mechanism of the knife found next to Williams’ body repeatedly to demonstrate that it worked. The three-inch carving knife locks when in the open position. However, the knife was found in the closed position at the scene. Mudd testified that a third-party testing the knife showed the locking mechanism was faulty—meaning that Williams' was arguably brandishing an open knife that snapped closed when Williams dropped it. Mudd's repeated testing of the knife's locking mechanism weakened this argument.
Everyone called to testify this week will be questioned by attorney Melinda Young, representing the King County Prosecutor’s office, attorney Tim Ford, representing the Williams family, and Ted Buck, who is representing Officer Birk.
By the week’s end, a six-member jury will be tasked with answering a series of questions about the circumstances surrounding Williams’ death—questions that could be used to launch criminal charges—if the King County Prosecutor’s office sees fit—or a civil suit against officer Birk.