In a six-page claim filed Friday against the city of Seattle, attorneys representing the estate of Charleena Lyles say two Seattle police officers “lost their composure” when the pregnant mother of four began waving a knife or knives around, then failed to order her to drop her weapon and warn her they would shoot.
The claim, which does not specify a dollar amount, is a first step toward filing a lawsuit alleging the officers violated Lyles’ civil rights and are responsible for her wrongful death. The claim also alleges negligence and violation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
The city has 60 days to respond to the claim before a suit can be filed.
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Julie Moore, a spokeswoman for the city’s department of finance and administrative services (FAS), wrote in an email Friday that “FAS does not comment on open claims.”
Lyles, a 30-year-old African-American mother of four, was fatally shot by two white 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.
Three of Lyles’ children were in her apartment when she was killed.
Lyles’ family has said the shooting could have been avoided and that they believe race was a factor.
Her father, Charles Lyles, was granted his motion to be appointed the personal representative of Charleena Lyles’ estate on Tuesday in King County Superior Court, court records show. At a news conference Friday at his attorneys’ Seattle law firm, Charles Lyles said any money awarded as a result of the claim or a lawsuit would go to his grandchildren.
Charleena Lyles’ four children, ages 1, 2, 11 and 12, have been split up and are living with other relatives, Charles Lyles said.
“Since I lost my daughter, I’ve been really empty inside … Her whole life revolved around her kids,” he said. “I miss my grandkids. I miss my daughter tremendously. I cry a lot.”
However, later in the day, attorneys representing other relatives of Lyles, including two of her sisters, issued a news release saying they were disappointed Charles Lyles did not contact them before petitioning the court to become personal representative of the estate. The attorneys represent two people who are guardians for Lyles’ four children.
“As attorneys for the two individuals who have guardianship of Charleena’s four children, we hope that Mr Lyles’ counsel contacts us in the future so we can work together to best represent the children’s interests,” the news release said.
During the news conference, Charles Lyles’ attorney, Karen Koehler, declined to answer questions related to what she called Charleena Lyles’ “severe mental-health issues,” but the claim filed against the city references Lyles’ battle with depression and says she began treatment at Sound Mental Health in summer 2016 after she was arrested for domestic-violence assault following an altercation with her sister in Auburn.
Koehler, who is representing Charles Lyles along with attorneys Ed Moore and Travis Jameson, acknowledged that the Seattle Police Department quickly released the officers’ statements and other evidence to the public.
“It’s unprecedented for SPD to release information like this as fast as they can … They have definitely done a good job in releasing documents,” she said.
But Jameson said the attorneys are “concerned with the defensive response” provided by SPD to outstanding questions about the shooting. Last month, the department released a 45-page memo answering a slew of questions posed by members of the City Council.
“The tone of the SPD’s opus was imperious and defensive,” the claim filed against the city says of the memo.
Koehler criticized Anderson and McNew for failing to come up with a plan before entering Lyles’ apartment, noting officers had responded there 23 times between January 2016 and June.
“They knew there was a woman in there in distress. There was no plan,” Koehler said.
She pointed out that two weeks earlier, Charleena Lyles had brandished a large pair of shears at officers who had responded to her apartment.
“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.
Answering a similar question posed by the City Council, the SPD memo notes that Anderson and McNew were responding to a burglary complaint, not a crisis call. The officers later said in their statements that as they were wrapping up the burglary call, Lyles’ demeanor and behavior instantly went from calm to threatening.
“Certain questions seem to suggest, for example, that the 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 says.
Noting that “persons living with mental illness are no more likely to exhibit dangerous behavior than anyone else,” the memo goes on to say that those who have experienced mental illness “are not always in crisis and should not be treated as such.”
Jameson, one of the attorneys, called Lyles’ life “a redemption story” and that while she was struggling, Lyles was trying to better herself for her and her children.
Her life was “taken away from her before she could complete her redemption,” he said. “It’s not appropriate to treat certain segments of the population inhumanely.”
Lyles’ death sparked community outrage, with hundreds of people attending a vigil, then a demonstration and march through downtown Seattle within days of the 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.
Investigators are continuing to look into the shooting, including why Anderson had left his uncharged Taser in his locker. Ultimately, the shooting will reviewed by a police board, an inquest jury and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.