For more than 18 months before Charleena Lyles was killed, Seattle police officers responded to a series of incidents involving the mother of four, according to recently released police reports. Her encounters took a sudden, ominous turn shortly before she was fatally shot.
Minutes after holding police at bay with 12-inch scissors on June 5, Charleena Lyles calmed down and spoke to one of the officers who had responded to a domestic-violence call at her Northeast Seattle apartment.
Officer Nathan Bauer recounted in his written report that Lyles “stated that she should have just stabbed me when she had the chance, but then said she could tell I had a good heart, and that it’s unfortunate they ‘always send the good ones.’ ”
While officers waited with Lyles in her apartment for family members to take custody of one of her children, a police lieutenant walked in and offered to get a cup of water for the child.
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“Charleena then looked at me and said that she wished he had responded because she really wanted to ‘slice him up,’ ” Bauer wrote.
As a result of the incident, Lyles was handcuffed, taken into custody and ultimately charged with harassment and obstructing a public officer.
Out of jail 13 days later, Lyles, a 30-year-old mother of four, was fatally shot by two Seattle officers after she reported a burglary and, according to the officers, suddenly attacked them with one or two knives.
The June 18 shooting came at a time when Lyles’ life was spinning out of control and her interactions with police were growing more confrontational, according to recently released police reports.
The shooting of the African-American mother by two white officers unleashed a storm of public protest, with many seeing it as another example of unnecessary deadly force being used by police against people of color.
Questions also have been raised over why neither officer was armed with a Taser, although officers are generally taught not to use a Taser, baton or pepper spray to disarm people posing a deadly threat with a knife.
For more than 18 months before the shooting, Lyles repeatedly sought the assistance of police, often to deal with an abusive boyfriend who had fathered two of her children, according to the police reports obtained by The Seattle Times under a public-records request.
Officers tried to help her, giving her pamphlets on domestic violence and arresting the boyfriend.
During the period, at least 38 officers responded to various types of calls involving Lyles. She apparently had no previous contact with the two officers who shot her, according to the police reports.
In an Aug. 11 claim filed against the city, the first step toward filing a lawsuit, a lawyer representing Lyles’ estate alleged that police mishandled the June 18 call by failing to come up with a plan on how to deal with her.
“It didn’t take a mental-health expert to instantly comprehend that Charleena was experiencing some sort of an involuntary mental-illness outburst just like what happened with the scissors two weeks before,” the claim says.
Before the June 5 standoff, Lyles also had been accused of shoplifting hundreds of dollars of groceries from a University Village supermarket two days earlier and had allegedly threatened a school principal weeks before, new details in the police reports show.
Seattle police have noted that the June 18 call was dispatched as a residential burglary and not a crisis call, and that at the beginning Lyles “appeared to be in behavioral control” and wasn’t displaying signs of mental illness.
Monika Williams, an older sister of Lyles, said in an interview with The Times that Lyles, in the beginning, had a good relationship with officers.
But police waited too long to take strong action against the boyfriend, Williams asserted.
And just when the problems with the boyfriend stopped, the father of her two other children suddenly showed up, Williams said.
He choked and punched her, Lyles told police.
It was too much for her, Williams said.
After that, Lyles’ trust in the police had “gone out the window,” Williams said.
The first call during the period covered in the police reports came on Nov. 11, 2015, when Lyles flagged down officers at her apartment complex. Bleeding from a cut above her left eye, she reported that her boyfriend of about seven years had assaulted her.
Officers arrested Franklin Camphor, identified as the father of one of three children she had at the time, for investigation of domestic-violence assault, although Lyles refused to provide a written statement.
The next month, three days before Christmas, Lyles called police again to request they remove Camphor from her apartment after an argument. She described him then as an ex-boyfriend.
Six days later, police were back at Lyles’ apartment after another disturbance involving Camphor. Before the officers left, Lyles was given a business card and a case number that could be used to obtain a protection order or be submitted to a social-service agency. She also was provided with a Seattle police pamphlet on domestic violence.
Through August 2016, Seattle police responded to eight more 911 calls involving Lyles and Camphor, including one in which Lyles was 34 weeks pregnant with Camphor’s child.
In one 10-day span, Camphor smashed out the windshield and back window of Lyles’ car, according to the police reports.
Lyles ultimately obtained no-contact and protection orders against Camphor, which he violated on Aug. 25, 2016. He pleaded guilty to violating a no-contact order, served 90 days in jail and agreed to have no contact with Lyles.
The Aug. 25 call was the last involving Camphor, according to the police reports.
Principal reports threat
On May 15, 2017, an elementary-school principal reported to police that she had been threatened by Lyles.
The principal, whose name is redacted in the report, told police that two weeks earlier she had seen Lyles walking with children who were supposed to be in school. The principal said she had notified a guardian ad litem working with Lyles.
Subsequently, the principal said, a woman who didn’t identify herself called the school, demanding the harassment of her family stop. The woman spewed expletives before threatening to sue and hanging up.
On May 15, Lyles went to the school and began yelling and cursing, using language the principal took as a threat to shoot her, the police report says.
Questioned by an officer at her apartment, Lyles accused the principal of harassing and following her.
Lyles said she had been taking her children to an appointment at Child Protective Services, which had intervened in her situation. She said she had told the principal to stay away from her children but didn’t threaten her, according to the police report.
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On May 28, officers responded to a call from Lyles reporting that she had been assaulted by another man, Jeffries Butts, the father of two of her children.
Lyles told officers that, without her knowledge, one of the children had called Butts and asked him to pick her up. Lyles said she was surprised to see him at the door and that they argued because, according to her, he was not supposed to be around their children.
When she told Butts she would call police if he didn’t leave, he grabbed a cellphone from her hand and threw it to the floor, shattering it, Lyles said.
Butts then choked and punched her before he left in his car, which he lived out of, she said. King County prosecutors charged Butts with second-degree domestic-violence assault, a felony, and a bench warrant for his arrest remains pending.
Six days later, on June 3, police were called to the QFC grocery store at University Village, where a woman — later identified by police as Lyles based on a store video — had allegedly left without paying for $251 in groceries.
Lyles had resisted employees when they stopped her, telling them “go ahead and call the cops they will know who I am,” according to the police report. She then left on foot.
On June 5, police were dispatched to a domestic-violence call from Lyles.
Although she reported an assault had occurred that day, she related the same facts as the May 28 assault, according to a police report.
She then brandished 12-inch scissors, telling two officers they “would not be leaving today,” says the report on the June 5 events.
With a daughter playing nearby, Lyles was repeatedly told to drop the scissors but kept asking one officer if he would shoot her in front of the child, according to the report.
Officer Bauer wrote that he attempted to de-escalate the situation, as Lyles made known she was keeping the officers in her apartment and displaying the scissors because she wanted to free her people.
She told the officers she could see “snake” in their eyes, explaining they were members of the Ku Klux Klan and that she was one of God’s children, according to his report. If they continued to upset her, she said, she would morph into “the wolf.”
When other officers arrived, Lyles gradually became calmer as she talked about “good” officers and the lieutenant she wanted to “slice,” the report says.
Lyles, who was pregnant with what would have been her fifth child, pleaded not guilty to the harassment and obstruction charges in Seattle Municipal Court.
On June 13, she appeared in Mental Health Court, where she was ordered to be released the next day with conditions, according to court records.
After being told Lyles was undergoing mental-health treatment, a judge ordered her to possess no weapons, check in with the court’s Day Reporting Program every Tuesday and Thursday, and submit to random drug and alcohol testing. Her next court appearance was set for June 27.
On June 18, Seattle police officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew responded on that Sunday morning to a burglary report from Lyles. Anderson had left his uncharged Taser in his locker, although he later told investigators he received training that calls for Taser officers dealing with someone with a knife to drop their Taser and pull out their gun.
While both officers were aware of what had happened on June 5, they dealt with Lyles in much the same way as officers had since the first call in November 2015.
As Lyles was explaining what was missing from her apartment, she suddenly attacked both officers with one or two knives, Anderson and McNew said in recorded interviews with police investigators.
After ignoring at least six commands to get back, Lyles said, “Do it! Do it … Are you ready? mother f—–s!” according to court documents filed in the case.
Both officers fired, killing Lyles.
Three of Lyles’ children were in the apartment when she died.
Surveillance video of the hallway outside the apartment showed no one other than Lyles leaving or entering the apartment in the hours before the shooting, calling into question whether a burglary had occurred.
Investigators with the Police Department’s Force Investigation Team are continuing to look into the shooting.
Ultimately, the shooting will be reviewed by a police board, an inquest jury and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
The day after the shooting, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office quietly closed its reviews of the QFC and elementary-school incidents with short notations: “The suspect is now deceased.”