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Appeals court revives wrongful death lawsuit over shooting of Charleena Lyles

Family members and friends of Charleena Lyles embrace during a vigil for Lyles on the anniversary of her death. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

An appeals court reversed a lower court decision Tuesday that had previously dismissed a lawsuit brought against the City of Seattle over the 2017 death of Charleena Lyles.

In June 2017, Lyles called police to her apartment, reporting a burglary. Four-months pregnant at the time, she allegedly attempted to stab the two officers on the scene. SPD officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew shot her seven times. Family members claimed Lyles had mental health problems and that the confrontation could have been resolved without her death.

Lyles’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, which was subsequently dismissed by a King County Superior Court judge in January 2019. The decision was overturned Tuesday, though, with a Washington state appeals court raising questions over “genuine issues of material fact.”

Seattle PD releases detailed report of Charleena Lyles shooting

That decision was rooted in a handful of factors, including:

  • The omission of testimony from a police practices expert and a criminologist, who both had argued that Lyles’ death could have been avoided if the officers who shot her had been carrying an SPD-mandated stun gun
  • The omission of testimony from a criminal psychologist, who opined that because “Lyles was in in a psychotic state during the shooting,” she did not have the capacity to form intent to commit assault against the officers (a claim that had been part of a key argument from the City in getting the lawsuit dismissed)
  • The contention that the officers “could have used nonlethal methods” to subdue Lyles, given her slight stature and SPD use of force policies that mandate exhausting all other options before discharging a firearm

“The admissibility of the experts’ testimony is a key issue in this appeal,” the ruling reads, pointing out that the lower court had agreed to strike that testimony from the record in rendering its dismissal.

This will effectively reopen proceedings in the family’s wrongful death lawsuit, which alleges assault and negligence on the part of the two officers who shot Lyles.

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