This morning, Officer William Collins—a 21-year veteran for SPD—testified that it didn't matter if the knife that Native American woodcarver John T. Williams was holding was open or closed when he was shot by Seattle police officer Ian Birk because either way, the knife presented an imminent threat to the officer. Birk fatally shot Williams roughly 10 seconds after seeing him walk across Boren Avenue downtown while holding a knife that had a three-inch blade, which is legal in Seattle according to the city's municipal code.

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The public inquest into Williams shooting will likely stretch into Tuesday at least, said presiding King County District Court Judge Arthur Chapman. It was slated to end today. Officer Collins, who was the senior officer at the scene of the shooting, can be heard telling Officer Birk "good job" in a video of the incident. Here are some quotes offered up by Officer Collins:

Attorney Ted Buck: From your training and experience, does it matter if the weapon is open or closed?
Collins: Absolutely not. The weapon can be deployed extremely quickly… if given any time at all. If you hold the knife correctly, press your thumb down on that nut, if you have firm grip on the knife, you can open it quick. I’ve dealt with people who’ve held them many times.

Just to reiterate the threat of closed knives and the menace they pose to SPD officers:

Attorney Tim Ford: Is a closed knife similar threat as an open knife?
Collins: Absolutely. It's a major threat. To me it’s just as big [a threat] as an open knife... It’s extremely dangerous and you have to treat the person with utmost caution.
Ford: A closed knife is grounds for using a firearm?
Collins: I believe so… it can be opened in an instant. You can get your ears cut off and be stabbed. We don’t get paid enough to be hurt.

Collins testified that Williams' knife was basically a switchblade—that it had a bolt that would allow it to "flip right open, with one hand" making it a major threat to Officer Birk and the public. But when asked by attorney Tim Ford, who's representing the Williams family, to demonstrate this one-handed move with Williams' knife, Collins said he couldn't because he'd never personally handled it.

Ford: But you just testified that you could press a bolt, flip it right open. You don't really know, do you?
Collins: I think it's pretty common knowledge what the knife is for.
Ford: So you don't really know if the knife can be flipped with one hand.
Collins: No.

Other witnesses who've handled the blade have not shown it to flip open with the push of a button. Here's more on Birk's training and why Williams was an imminent threat.

Buck: If you were to run across someone with a closed knife like that, what is the risk posed?
Collins: We receive a lot of training on dealing with people with edged weapons and basically the risk involved, we have what’s called a 21-foot rule. If someone is 21 feet away with a knife that’s closed or a knife that’s open, the vast majority of the time they’ll be able to close the distance and stab you before you can recognize the threat, recognize the attack, accept it, and decide on a course of action.

Buck: And if the person is not 21 feet away, only nine?
Collins: Basically, if the person is intent on attacking you, if they’ve made the decision of attacking you, you’re going to have to… fight for your life. [You won’t have time to] draw your weapon, you might have to get your leg out in front of you to keep the person from getting on top of you, you’re still within an arm's distance.

Ford later takes apart Collins' interpretation of the 21-foot rule, pointing out that the rule pertains to the distance (and time) it takes a suspect to rush an officer while the officer takes out his weapon and fire one or two rounds. Of course, Officer Birk already had his weapon out when he confronted Williams. And he was the one responsible for the short distance of nine feet that separated himself from Williams. And as civilian witnesses testified yesterday, Williams wasn't in an attack position—he wasn't even facing Birk.

One more gem from Officer Collins:

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Ford: If you ordered a person to put down the knife, and he looks at you with a mean expression, he could be shot?
Collins: The implication is, yes, that if you don’t drop it you may be shot.
Ford: With nothing but a mean look on his face, is that what you’re testifying to? It's not SPD training to give a warning before you shoot?
Collins: Absolutely not. Training is to give direct, concise, decisive orders.

Nancy Pushman, a civilian witness who testified directly after Collins, said that she didn't once hear Birk identify himself as a police officer. "I didn’t know it was a police officer and I didn’t want to turn around and become the target of a random shooting," she said. "I think if I would’ve hears someone say 'help me' or 'police,' I definitely would’ve turned around." Pushman was walking ahead of Williams, headed east down the block where Williams was shot.

Past posts on the inquest, chronologically: people praying for murder charges, protests outside the courthouse, the first day of testimony, the second day revealing that witnesses never saw aggression toward the officer, Officer Birk on the stand, followed by inconsistencies in Birk's testimony, and witness testimony that Williams was not a threat. Stay tuned.

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