A police dashboard-camera video released Friday shows woodcarver John T. Williams and Officer Ian Birk during their fatal encounter on a Seattle street last summer. Audio on the same video captures the Seattle officer telling Williams to drop a knife he was carrying moments before five gunshots are heard.

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A police dashboard-camera video released Friday shows woodcarver John T. Williams and Officer Ian Birk during their fatal encounter on a Seattle street last summer. Audio on the same video captures the Seattle officer telling Williams to drop a knife he was carrying moments before five gunshots are heard.

The shooting was not caught on video because of the position of Birk’s patrol car.

On the video, Williams can be seen walking in front of Birk’s car. Williams is carrying a knife and a piece of wood. Birk, with handgun drawn, is then seen following Williams.

Once the two men are off-camera, Birk is heard yelling “Hey. Hey. Hey.” He then orders Williams three times to “Put the knife down.” Five gunshots ring out about four seconds after Birk’s first command to drop the knife.

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A short time later, a witness can be heard questioning Birk’s actions. The officer then says, “Ma’am, he had a knife and he wouldn’t drop it.”

Once other officers arrive on the scene, Birk is heard explaining what happened.

The video figures to be a key element during the January inquest into the Aug. 30 shooting, which has drawn sharp criticism from community and minority groups who say the officer killed Williams without provocation. The family of Williams, a street inebriate, say he was hard of hearing and may not have heard the officer’s commands.

Birk, 27, who joined the department in 2008, said in a written statement the day of the shooting that he had feared for his life.

The officer said he stopped Williams because he was carrying an open-bladed knife and a piece of wood while walking across the intersection of Boren Avenue and Howell Street. Birk said he fired when Williams didn’t respond to the commands to drop the knife, which Williams’ family has said was used for carving.

Williams, 50, a member of Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations in British Columbia, was struck by four bullets.

Among the questions in the case is whether the 3-inch blade on Williams’ knife was open when he crossed the intersection; the blade was found in the closed position after the shooting.

Tim Ford, the attorney for the Williams family, has said Williams likely folded the blade and planned to put the knife down in response to Birk’s commands.

It also has been suggested that the knife’s locking mechanism was defective, which could have caused the blade to close after the knife hit the ground.

The Police Department’s Firearms Review Board and Police Chief John Diaz preliminarily found in early October that the shooting was not justified, according to sources. The board and Diaz will not make a final decision until the inquest is completed.

A King County judge on Thursday ordered the release of the previously confidential video despite opposition from Birk’s attorney, Ted Buck.

Initially, the video was to be first shown to a six-member jury at the inquest scheduled to begin Jan. 10. But the Williams family, The Seattle Times and KING-TV requested that the video be released after the attorney for the family privately submitted it to the judge last month as part of pre-inquest proceedings.

Still frames from the video were released earlier.

The shooting was one of several incidents cited by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 34 community and civil-rights organizations in a request to the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether the Police Department has engaged in a pattern of violating the civil rights of suspects, particularly minorities.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com