Lyles inquest resumes following a week of graphic, emotional testimony
The first week of testimony in the inquest into the Seattle Police shooting death of Charleena Lyles included two days of graphic, emotional testimony from the lead investigator, first responders, and neighbors.
On Tuesday, jurors were walked through the timeline by Seattle Police Detective Jason Dewey, who in 2017 was a member of the Force Investigation Team leading the investigation into the shooting on the morning of June 18, 2017.
Lyles called 911, reporting a burglary. It was just past 9:30 a.m. when Officer Jason Anderson arrived and called for backup from Officer Steven McNew. Anderson deemed backup necessary because of Lyles’ previous interactions with police two weeks earlier.
Detective Dewey read from Anderson’s statement during testimony, highlighting that Lyles was a potential threat to law enforcement based on that earlier incident.
“I noticed that, at some point, the officers had contacted her relating to a [domestic violence] incident, and she was sitting on the sofa with a pair of scissors. It sounded like they were uncomfortable with her holding the scissors,” read the statement.
“She made some sort of statement in that report that none of you were going to leave here, or something like that. Then she made some other statement related to her and her daughter turning into wolves or something to that effect, just kind of a strange statement that would make the officers request more units once they arrived.”
“They were able to get her to put down the scissors at some point, so it sounded like she complied. But this was concerning to me,” Dewey continued as he finished reading Anderson’s statement for the jury.
Moments after that conversation, Officers Anderson and McNew headed to Lyles’ door, responding to her 9-1-1 call about a burglary. Video from the building and microphones on the officers are linked up to audio and video of what happened, as officers were not required to have body cameras back in 2017.”
“The video only shows the officers in the hallway outside of the front door, but you hear the swift escalation on their mics, as one minute they’re talking to her … and the next the officers are heard yelling, ‘Get back! Get Back!,’ followed by multiple gunshots. A total of seven shots between the two officers.”
Just before those gunshots, you also hear Officer McNew yell “taser,” explained Dewey, but Officer Anderson responded that he did not have a taser.
Attorneys for Lyles’ family asked what other non-lethal options they had with them, which Dewey explained included batons and O.C. spray, but he testified the investigation appeared to indicate neither officer ever attempted to use those methods before opening fire.
The proximity of Lyles’ children to the shooting was also highlighted on the first day of testimony, with Dewey testifying two of the young children had been in the living room when their mother was shot. A third, that the officer had not realized was even in the apartment, was in a bedroom.
Some of the more powerful testimony was about the two children who were in the living room. Dewey was asked to read from a portion of Officer McNew’s statement regarding what he saw after Lyles was shot.
“When she landed on the floor, she landed facedown, and I’m yelling out to Anderson at this point, asking Jason if he’s okay. He says he’s okay. And one of the little babies crawls out from behind and right on top of her, resting his head against her, and then another kid pops out of a bedroom.
“We had no idea there were any other people in the apartment, and he pops out, and I’m thinking ‘oh my God,’ his mom’s on the floor dying,” said McNew,” in his statement Dewey read for the inquest jury.
Attorneys for the officers also brought up that, during the confusion before the shooting, you can hear Lyles in the audio saying “do it,” but it’s not clear exactly what that might have meant.
Dewey testified the entire incident from the time the officers arrive at Lyles’ door to the time that they report shots fired was less than four minutes.
Day two of the inquest included more emotional testimony of those first on the scene of the shooting, including Officer Erick Schickler who testified about why he deemed it necessary to get Lyles’ children outside before starting chest compressions on Lyles.
“I deemed it very important because when you render the type of first aid … it was going to be extremely horrific to a small child,” explained Schickler, who also detailed handing two of the children over to a neighbor – Lhorna Murray – before going back inside to get the infant.
The jury was also shown video of Murray and another woman, Mary Ruffin, captured from a police cruiser dash cam as they tried to console Lyles’ children. Later, Ruffin sobbed as she recalled Lyles’ 12-year-old son crying as he said “they shot my mom,” according to the Seattle Times.
Lawyers for the officers objected to the jury being shown the video, arguing it was “more inflammatory than probative,” but were overruled by inquest administrator Micheal Spearman.
Lyles’ family says she had suffered from mental illness, and that the two officers did not do enough to de-escalate the situation. Following the first day of testimony, they had not changed their minds. “We’ve been on this cliffhanger for five years, and the information that I’m getting now is not…I’m not changing my mind that you murdered my cousin. I’m thinking even more now, you guys murdered my cousin,” Lyles’ cousin Katrina Johnson told KIRO7.
The inquest jury will be asked to figure out if the facts surrounding Lyles’ death are within SPD policy, and whether there was any criminality involved. The King County prosecuting attorney has already found that no crime was committed, but they are monitoring the inquest.
A final decision will be pending until the outcome of the inquest. Seattle police had already found that the shooting was within policy.
The city of Seattle recently settled a wrongful death suit over Lyles shooting death with the family for $3.5 million.
The Lyles inquest is expected to resume Monday, June 27.