Tim Ford—the attorney representing the Williams family—says that there's another way to read the state law that King County Attorney Dan Satterberg used to justify his decision not to charge
Seattle police officer Ian Birk with murder for shooting John T. Williams last August. Ford says that not only is Satterberg dead wrong about his interpretation of the law and the facts of the case. Ford argues that a jury should decide Birk's fate and says Satterberg hasn't had the last word on whether or not Birk faces murder charges.
Here is Ford's statement, in full (emphasis mine):
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s decision not to bring any charges against Ian Birk for killing the late John T. Williams is wrong about the facts, wrong about the law and wrong as a matter of public policy.
Mr. Satterberg says his decision is driven by the fact there is no evidence that Officer Birk acted with malice. Anyone who sees and hears the video of Officer Birk’s actions toward the late John Williams can see the evidence of malice. The Williams family’s question for Mr. Satterberg is: where is the evidence there was no malice? Why shouldn’t a jury decide that?
Mr. Satterberg justifies his decision not to let a jury decide by accepting what Officer Birk said, over the testimony of the many independent witnesses who saw this shooting, the video tape and the physical evidence. For Mr. Satterberg, the mere fact that Officer Birk is a police officer makes his word outweigh all the evidence against him and suspends ordinary prosecutorial standards. That’s not the law. That’s Mr. Satterberg’s personal choice.
It’s also wrong that Mr. Satterberg justifies his decision with the answers to the jury interrogatories during the inquest. During the inquest, his office’s position was that those answers had no legal effect. Because of that, the jury was given no legal guidelines, heard from no use of force experts and was never given any summary of the evidence and what it showed. Mr. Satterberg’s use of these findings to justify what he wants to do is duplicitous, and it shows how badly flawed the King County inquest system has become. Its only function now seems to be to protect police officers from the consequences of their wrongful actions and to give politicians cover for their decisions to do nothing about it.
The use of force law Mr. Satterberg refers to has never been interpreted by a court. It is far from clear that Mr. Satterberg’s interpretation of this law is correct. The Legislature said when it passed that law that it was trying to make clear that police officers are more restricted in their use of deadly force for self-defense, as compared to ordinary citizens. Mr. Satterberg reads this law to mean the exact opposite. There is no reason Mr. Satterberg could not let a judge and jury decide whether he is right or wrong about that. By giving himself the final word, Mr. Satterberg is making sure no other opinion on this will matter, but his.
Mr. Satterberg announced his decision through the press, not in a conversation with the family. They trusted his promise that they would be informed of his decision personally, not through leaks and the media. That trust was betrayed.
There is no statute of limitations on murder, so this need not be the last word on this. We completely agree with the findings of the Seattle Police Department Shooting Review Board that Officer Birk’s actions and the shooting of the late John T. Williams were completely unjustified and egregious. Perhaps when Mr. Satterberg reviews the Department’s careful analysis of the evidence, he will reconsider. If not, the voters have a chance to evaluate Mr. Satterberg’s decisions and the policies pursued by his office. Perhaps a different Prosecutor will look at this matter again, in a clearer light in the future, and make a different decision.
The Williams family continues its fight for justice for their brother and welcomes the support of the community in its efforts to preserve his memory. For more information about the memorial pole, please visit our Facebook page, the John T. Williams Memorial Totem Pole Project.