Federally mandated reforms call for a thorough investigation, but the answers won’t come quickly.
While many questions remain about Sunday’s fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles by two Seattle police officers, some answers likely won’t come anytime soon.
Under federally mandated reforms stemming from a 2012 court agreement with the Department of Justice, the department’s Force Investigation Team will carry out an extensive investigation of the officers’ decision to fire after Lyles, 30, allegedly threatened them with two knives.
It usually takes a few months to complete the work, which requires interviews, crime-scene investigation and forensic work.
Some information is quickly released — such as dashcam audio and video recordings of confrontations, which were provided by police on Monday. But other information is withheld until all the evidence is examined, in accordance with department policy.
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The results then are reviewed by the Police Department’s Force Review Board to determine if policy was followed and if any lessons can be learned. The board reviews and analyzes the most serious as well as intermediate use of force by police.
The Force Review Board (FRB) has drawn praise from the federal monitor overseeing police reforms, in a 2015 report.
Under department policy, the Force Review Unit captain is the standing chair of the board. The deputy chief or any assistant chief, or designee, may chair the FRB as required by the department’s needs. For an officer-involved shooting, it typically is an assistant chief.
Members include the force-review captain, a representative from the Training Section, three representatives from the Patrol Operations Bureau, a representative from the Audit, Policy & Research Section and a representative from the Investigations Bureau.
The chair does not vote unless there is a tie. Observers, who do not vote, may include representatives of the Justice Department; the court-appointed monitoring team overseeing police reforms; the civilian director of the Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability; and a civilian and union representative in cases of shootings by officers.
Additionally, experts on case-specific issues are brought in as needed, but those individuals do not vote
Like previous cases, the review board’s examination of Sunday’s shooting will also likely take time.
For example, after the fatal shooting of Che Taylor by two officers on Feb. 21, 2016, the review board did not reach its finding that the shooting fell within department policy until nearly three months later.
Any conduct the review board deems to be in violation of Seattle police policy is referred to the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), the department’s internal-investigation unit, for further review.
In an online note posted Tuesday, the OPA’s civilian director, Pierce Murphy, said his office has received many calls and emails regarding what he described as a tragic event.
Murphy outlined the policies and protocols, writing, “We ask for your patience as the Force Investigation Team completes its investigation and the Force Review Board reviews the evidence.”
Those with questions may call 206-684-8797, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The review board’s findings are also submitted to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to determine if criminal charges are warranted and can be used in a public inquest into the shooting.
One of the issues that has been raised is whether crisis-intervention procedures might have made a difference given Lyles’ previous contact with police and her mental-health issues.
Both of the officers involved had undergone Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and one was a certified CIT officer, meaning he had undergone additional, intensive de-escalation and mental-health intervention training, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said Monday.
The officers were identified late Tuesday as Steven McNew and Jason Anderson, who both worked in the North Precinct. McNew, 34, was hired by the Seattle Police Department in February 2008, police said. Anderson, 32, was hired in April 2015. Both remain on paid administrative leave.
Under the federal reforms, all officers receive a minimum level of such training, and some get enhanced training.
Whether the procedures would have made a difference in Sunday’s confrontation is uncertain but are likely to receive close scrutiny.
Overall they have proved to be successful, according to an August 2016 report.
The federal monitor also has praised those efforts.
Lyles’ family have been highly critical of the officers’ use of deadly force when police acknowledged the officers had “less lethal-force options” at their disposal, pepper spray or batons. They also said Lyles had been struggling with mental-health issues for the past year and was concerned that authorities would take her four children, one of whom they said has Down syndrome.
“We’ve worked so hard on this issue of mental-health interventions,” O’Toole said Monday. “We’ve prevented so many tragedies. That’s what makes this so difficult.”
But she said officers have to protect themselves, and in close-quarters like the scene of Sunday’s shooting, they often “don’t have the benefit of time and distance,” which would allow for officers to seek cover and a more measured response to the crisis.
“We have talked for years about the intersection of policing and mental health,” she said.
O’Toole said she has spoken to clergy and community leaders, and has made herself available to Lyles’ family “if they want to speak.”
She said the department has undergone significant reforms, but she acknowledged that work is needed, not just to meet the requirements of the federal consent decree, but to restore trust in the communities that demanded the Department of Justice intervene in the first place.
“If this is a setback, then so be it,” O’Toole said. “We’ll have to work through it.”