The two white police officers who fatally shot Charleena Lyles, a pregnant black woman, in front of her young children after she pulled a knife on them had no other options except to fire at her, according to a newly released Seattle police report.
The Force Review Board, a panel of Seattle Police Department personnel, determined in a unanimous November vote that the controversial June 18 shooting was consistent with police training. The analysis, released on December 8, details the factors considered for the vote, though it does not provide any recommendations to chance policy or training to prevent future incidents.
Officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew fired at Lyles, a 30-year-old mother of four, when she allegedly lunged at them with knives she had been concealing in her coat pockets. The pair had been responding to her 911 call about a burglary in her apartment.
After surveying Lyles’s home, Anderson and McNew were jotting down their report when she allegedly pulled out two knives and started to come at Anderson, who yelled for her to get back and pulled out his gun. The woman, who was 5-foot-3 and 100 pounds, then turned toward McNew. The officers told authorities McNew was trapped in a dead-end kitchen galley as she brandished the pair of knives in her hands.
McNew told investigators he instructed Anderson to pull out a Taser, but he didn’t have it on him because its battery had died, the report said. As Lyles moved toward McNew, both officers independently decided to fire their guns—McNew fired three rounds and Anderson fired four.
Lyles fell to the ground and her infant child, who had been crawling around in the living room, climbed onto her back, while her toddler sat in the living room. She was later found to be 14 to 15 weeks pregnant.
McNew—who had a baton—told investigators he “didn’t feel there was any other reasonable alternative” to shooting Lyles and didn’t use his baton because there wasn’t enough space to properly use it.
Anderson said he wouldn’t have used his Taser even if he had it because he was trained to use lethal force when faced with a knife attack. He also had pepper spray on him, but said he didn’t employ it because it would be “tactically counterproductive” and could get in the officers’ eyes, opening them up to attack, the board found.
Lyles had a long history with police, and had called officers 38 times in the 18 months before the shooting, to help her deal with an abusive boyfriend who fathered two of her kids, according to The Seattle Times.
The newspaper reported that she had struggled with mental health issues, based on family and court records. Officers had given her pamphlets on domestic violence and arrested her boyfriend, but an August claim against the city for the shooting charges authorities should have done more to come up with a plan to help her.
The shooting sparked protests across the city, with many charging that it was another example of officers using excessive force against people of color.
Following the release of the report, the attorney for Lyles’s siblings and cousins released a statement critical of the analysis.
“In finding Charleena Lyles's killing to be within policy and training, while also failing to suggest policy and training reforms, the Seattle Police Department is saying that the same events that led to Charleena Lyles's death could happen again tomorrow, and there is no plan underway to make that outcome less likely. Charleena's sisters, brother and cousins reject that,” said attorney Corey Guilmette.
The report has been submitted to a federal judge who had requested it as he decides whether the officers were in compliance with a 2012 federal consent decree requiring the police department to make changes to guard against excessive force and biased policing, according to The Seattle Times.
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