Satterberg speaks.
  • Satterberg speaks.
At a 10:00 a.m. press conference held at the King County Courthouse, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg announced that his office won’t press criminal charges—charges of murder or manslaughter—against Seattle police officer Ian Birk for shooting John T. Williams last August, in a violent, 10-second confrontation downtown.

Sponsored
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker is Back Onstage at McCaw Hall! Tickets start at $27.
Join PNB for a timeless tale of holiday adventure performed by PNB’s amazing dancers and orchestra.


As expected, Satterberg said his decision was guided by state law, which says, "A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section." (My breakdown of the law over here.)

Satterberg said that his office could neither prove malice—defined as evil intent—or a lack of good faith. "In order to prosecute, would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt he acted with evil intent," explained Satterberg. "We have no proof of this. We would also have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Birk] believed he wasn’t in danger."

The law, Satterberg says, clearly allows for a police officer to make a "good faith" mistake.

Satterberg said that he received a record number of emails—over 1,200—demanding he file criminal charges against Birk. The huge amount of public response shows the deep divide between the Seattle Police Department and many minority groups within the city. "There’s suspicion, mistrust, even fear that some members will be mistreated by police," he said. "I’ve been urged to file murder charges as a way to bridge that divide... [and show that] the police should be held to the same standards as everybody else, they shouldn't have special protections in the law."

But clearly, officers do have special protection. "We ask men and women to put themselves in situations where they may have to make split second decisions about us of force," Satterberg says. "Of course, law enforcement officers sometimes make mistakes. When they make mistakes.. the city or county that employs them will face civil liability. But we do not and legally cannot put law enforcement officers on trial [without meeting the criteria of the law]… however tragic the circumstances might be."

Satterberg went on to say that the actions of officer Birk were "troubling" to him, as a citizen, just as they were to many other people. "With the benefit of hindsight it appears to me and many others that there were other options available to him. But tactical errors, violations of police training, those are to be resolved by the Seattle Police Department."

Support The Stranger

Only two protesters were in front of the courthouse this morning but word is a larger protest is being organized for 4:00 p.m. in front of City Hall.

City officials are bracing for people to flip their shit—SPD is holding an 11:00 a.m. presser on the decision not to charge Birk, followed by a 1:00 p.m. presser with Mayor Mike McGinn.