New video in Lyles inquest challenges officer’s ‘recollection’ of de-escalation options
Proceedings are expected to resume later today in the coroner’s inquest into the Seattle Police shooting of Charleena Lyles, a Black pregnant mother of four.
Lyles had called to report a burglary in June of 2017 and was shot a total of seven times by responding Officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew after they say she lunged at them with a knife inside her apartment.
Both officers have said they had no choice but to fire because of the confined space in the small, cluttered apartment. Anderson has said in sworn statements immediately after the shooting and during the inquest that the front door to the apartment was closed and that he had backed into it just before opening fire, after Lyles swung the small knife at him, narrowly missing his stomach.
But on Friday, Lyles family attorney Karen Koehler challenged Anderson’s recollection of the event with video from the apartment building hallway that had been synced up with audio from Anderson’s patrol car that captured the shooting.
Anderson reiterated his recollection during question Friday when Koehler asked if he had seen the video from the apartment building.
“When you saw the video, did that show you shooting from outside the door?” Koehler asked.
“No ma’am, not based on my recollection. It appears in the video that at some point I go out the door. I don’t have a memory of that,” Anderson replied.
At that point, Koehler played the synced video for Anderson and the jury that clearly shows him backing into the hallway of the apartment building – his feet and legs visible – as shots are fired, contradicting his recollection of events.
“Do you agree you were outside the apartment when you shot Ms. Lyles?” she asked.
“My feet were outside the apartment. That’s what the video appears to show,” Anderson said. “My recollection was that I was inside the apartment.”
That could be of interest for a couple of reasons, including the fact that both officers have testified they had no choice but to shoot Lyles because of the close quarters they were in. Jurors have also heard from multiple SPD policy witnesses, that de-escalation should be a priority when feasible before an officer uses force, and a critical component of de-escalation training is creating distance between an officer and a threat.
Jurors heard from both of the officers who shot Lyles last week, including the harrowing testimony from veteran Officer Steven McNew about his experience with Lyles’ children that day.
McNew walked Koehler through the timeline of the shooting, during which McNew describe Lyles as walking around toward the kitchen area and his growing concern that she would have unchecked, close proximity access to him given the layout. He also noted she was moving in a direction that may have made it impossible for him to fire for concern of hitting the children or Officer Anderson.
McNew also spoke about his shock after Lyles had been shot and was down when he saw her 11-year-old son emerge from a bedroom.
“We had just shot his mom and he had come out and seen it…and he knew, he knew what happened and I just can’t imagine,” a choked-up McNew testified.
“It was terrifying in that moment not only that he was there and we didn’t know but that essentially these are his last memories [of his mother],” he added.
McNew went on to recall what happened next with Lyles youngest son, how he was horrified to see the young boy had crawled on top of his mother’s body. McNew recalled telling the boy it would be alright as he picked him up off of Lyles.
Testimony from the officers had to be delayed at one point last week after an outburst from Lyles’ 80-year-old father, when an attorney for one of the officers suggested Lyles called to report the burglary as a ruse to get officers to her home so she could manipulate a suicide by cop scenario.
“She was not trying to commit suicide,” Lyles father abruptly shouted.
“I’m tired of them saying that. My daughter was not trying to commit suicide by police. It’s wrong for you to keep saying that,” he continued.
Tensions have flared between the family, the officers, and their attorneys throughout the inquest that’s taking place more than 5 years after Lyles was shot due to a revamping of the entire inquest process to address concerns of loved ones of those killed by police who felt the prior policy favored cops and lacked transparency, and the lawsuits over those changes that followed.
The week before McNew reported concerns after words were exchanged between him and Lyles father. That led to SWAT coming out to do a safety check of the area the following day, while there were no inquest proceedings held. But Lyles’ family was floored when they found out about SWAT responding calling it a ridiculous overreaction and something that prompted concern for their own safety during the proceeds.
Administrator Michael Spearmen would later make clear that the King County Sheriff’s Office had jurisdiction and stressed any security issues would go through them, not SPD SWAT.
SPD called the decision to have SWAT check the facility a precaution that was done intentionally when Lyles’ family was not present.
Lyles’ family acknowledges Lyles had struggled with some mental health issues, but contends that McNew and Anderson murdered her and failed to adequately de-escalate the situation. Lyles’ cousin Katrina Johnson says nothing she has heard so far has changed her mind on that front.
Johnson also took issue with the inquest process despite changes meant to benefit families of those killed by police, calling the entire process re-traumatizing for the family and unlikely to provide answers to their questions.
Inquest proceedings are scheduled to wrap up Wednesday, July 6. The inquest is a fact-finding mission where jurors will only be asked to look at whether the officers did anything outside of SPD policy and procedure, and whether the shooting involved any criminality. The inquest questioning is expected to begin today with jurors being asked to answer some 85 questions related to those issues.
Anderson and McNew were both cleared by SPD and are still on the job. No criminal charges were ever filed, though there is the possibility that could change based on what prosecutors observe from the inquest.