The Seattle Police Department this week released a 45-page report in answer to a list of over 30 questions posed by members of the Seattle City Council about the June 18 fatal officer-involved shooting that killed Charleena Lyles.
In the nearly 18 months before Charleena Lyles was fatally shot by two Seattle police officers, police responded to her apartment at Brettler Family Homes 23 times, a number that represents almost 30 percent of all calls for service to the building that houses formerly homeless families, according to a police memo released this week.
The 45-page memo, authored by Brian Maxey, an attorney who serves as the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) chief operating officer, was written in response to a list of 34 questions posed by members of the Seattle City Council after Lyles’ death.
Lyles, a 30-year-old African-American mother of four with a history of mental illness, was fatally shot by officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson on June 18. Police say she threatened the officers with at least one knife after calling 911 to report that someone had broken into her Magnuson Park apartment and stolen two video-game consoles.
Her death sparked community outrage, with hundreds of people attending a vigil, then a demonstration and march through downtown Seattle within days of the fatal officer-involved shooting, followed by a community forum a week later, where people spoke out against police brutality while calling for widespread police reforms and labeling Lyle’s killing as a “murder” and “modern-day lynching” by police.
Both officers involved in Lyles’ shooting are white.
The memo criticizes some of the council’s questions as inviting speculation and conjecture — and raises concerns that others reflect a lack of understanding of crisis-intervention principles to the point “they have the real potential to perpetuate the stigmatization of mental illness.”
The memo continues:
“Certain questions seem to suggest, for example, that officers should have assumed Ms. Lyles to be in crisis at the time of their response based solely on her behavior during an earlier incident, or that they should have assumed she would create a dangerous situation.”
The memo reiterates several times that the officers were responding to a residential burglary call — not a crisis call — as they had several times in the months before.
Between January 2016 and Lyles’ death last month, 23 of the 81 calls for police service to her apartment building were specific to Lyles’ apartment, the SPD memo says.
According to Mike Buchman, communications director for Solid Ground, which operates Brettler Family Homes, Lyles moved into her apartment on Nov. 4, 2015.
Of the 23 calls to Lyles’ apartment, there were 10 reports of domestic disturbances, four domestic assaults, three burglary reports, two reports of child abuse or neglect, one threat, one welfare check, one report of a missing child and one follow-up on a previous disturbance, the memo says.
Seattle police have released a police report from a June 5 incident in which police say Lyles brandished a pair of large shears at officers. The Seattle Times has requested a number of other police reports involving Lyles.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant has expressed no confidence in the SPD investigation and created an online petition demanding an investigation into Lyles’ death by an independent, community-based committee. Sawant, who posed many of the 34 questions to police, could not be reached Friday for comment on the SPD memo.
Councilmember M. Lorena González, who chairs the City Council’s public-safety committee, said in an email Friday that she appreciates SPD’s willingness to answer the myriad questions posed by the council:
“This level of accessibility to critical information is important to the council’s ongoing efforts to identify potential gaps in our policing policies and related officer trainings. I look forward to reviewing all 45 pages as we continue to evaluate how we can continue to improve our policing to maximize community and officer safety,” González wrote.
The public-safety committee’s vice chair, Councilmember Tim Burgess, called the report thorough and responsive.
Burgess, who did not submit any of the questions contained in the report, said the federal team that is monitoring reforms prompted by a 2012 consent decree on biased policing and excessive force is participating in and reviewing the investigative work being done on the Lyles shooting.
However, federal monitor Merrick Bobb disputed any participation in an email to the Seattle Times, saying the monitor is not involved in any way with the investigation into Lyles’ shooting.
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“Indeed, it is the opposite: The Monitor is interested in whether the SPD is capable, entirely on its own, to produce a full, fair, and complete investigation and adjudication of this high-profile matter,” Bobb wrote.
“While we are closely observing and reviewing the ongoing investigation and at some future time may comment upon it, we are in no way participating in it,” he said.
In April, Bobb concluded SPD has made a dramatic turnaround and was in substantial compliance with the core provisions of the consent decree that required the city to adopt new policies and training to address excessive force.
But Burgess lamented that community response to the Lyles shooting has harmed public trust in the Police Department:
“This incident is absolutely tragic and there are huge ramifications and despite all of the change and all of the gains we’ve seen in the Police Department, it takes just one incident to erase all that and we’re back to square one, starting over,” he said. “That’s why I’m so pleased they (SPD) have taken this total transparency approach. That’s what will build lasting trust.”
The report notes the amount of information proactively released by SPD, even as the investigation into the fatal shooting continues, “reflects a level of transparency that is unprecedented with respect to events of this nature in any jurisdiction.”
In the week after Lyles was killed, the department released dashcam footage, video-surveillance footage from Lyles’ apartment, an audio recording of Lyles’ 911 call to report a residential burglary, information about a caution to officers that Lyles had previously been assaultive and threatening to officers, transcripts of statements given by McNew and Anderson, a crime-scene diagram of Lyles’ apartment and photos of the knives found in her apartment.
In answering the City Council’s questions, the SPD report covers a wide range of police policies, procedures and community-outreach programs — from Taser use and crisis-intervention training for officers to the creation of a college policing course aimed at increasing the diversity of police recruits.
It also details a partnership between SPD and a nonprofit organization that’s led to individualized response plans for a dozen people who have previously required crisis intervention. The program has led to a 72 percent reduction in the number of police hours dedicated to the 12 participants and across the board, “these individuals had fewer arrests, hospitalizations, and generated fewer 911 calls after their plans were implemented,” says the report.
“Finally, we are compelled to hearken back to what we have stated again and again: police are, in many respects, at the end of complicated, and often broken systems,” the report concludes. “ …(T) he Seattle Police Department is doing all that it can to serve those who may suffer from mental health issues — but we cannot do it without resources and support from other systems.”