The family of Charleena Lyles is planning to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Seattle.
“We filed a claim form putting them on notice that we are going to file a lawsuit against them,” said Karen Koehler, an attorney representing the Lyles family.
Lyles, a pregnant black mother of four, was shot and killed in June by two Seattle Police Officers. She called 911 to report a robbery, police contacted her. But Lyles confronted police with a knife during that contact. The police department confirmed that neither officer had a Taser on them at the time.
She reportedly had a history of mental illness. In fact, Lyles family lawyers point out that Seattle police have 23 calls for Lyles on record, including one call two weeks before the shooting. Records specifically note mental illness was a concern. Police were aware of this when they responded to the call.
“I can picture her in my mind, in her kitchen surrounded by her babies, having a mental health crisis,” Koehler said. “And the police having known that she is not rational from two weeks before, having gone in with no plan, and just shooting her dead.”
After 60 days from the notice, the family can file their lawsuit. Attorneys said they will either file in King County Superior Court or in federal court. If the case is not settled within a year, it will likely head to trial, Koehler said.
“Our biggest focus is: what were they planning to do knowing there was someone with significant mental health issues in a house with minors? What was their approach to this situation and why did it end with bullets?” said Ed Moore, another attorney representing the family.
“And I know ‘a knife’ is what the police department is going to trot out,” he said. “But police need to treat the mentally ill in a different way. You have to deescalate and avoid violence as much as possible. What is going on is mental illness and not a true intent to harm.”
After the Lyles shooting
Since the shooting, multiple public demonstrations have been held. Lyles’ family has been open about their suffering.
“I’m just so hurt that she had to die the way she did,” Lyles’ father Charles said at a press conference Friday.
“I miss my grand kids,” he said. “And I miss my daughter a tremendous amount. I cry a lot. Sometimes I wake up at night, I can’t eat.”
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray ordered all police to wear body cams after the shooting. He said that cameras would have been helpful following the Lyles incident. Seattle police currently use dash cams, which record audio even when the officer is out of view. But that view is limited to the windshield perspective of the patrol car. There is currently no point-of-view cameras for Seattle police.
Moore said that questions remain as to what happened in Lyles’ apartment and that what is known “doesn’t add up” to explain why a woman lost her life.
“When I come to understand more of what transpired factually … that led to a situation where a baby finds itself clinging to its dead mother, I know the way to affect change in this case is not only through what Black Lives Matter are doing and what activists are doing, but what we can do in the courtroom,” Travis Jameson said, another attorney representing the family.
“Our community will weigh in and answer whether it is acceptable for us to treat the most vulnerable among us who are begging for help in a manner that is less than human,” he said.