Seattle Police Department policy says officers who have been trained to use a Taser must carry it during their shift. But an officer involved in last week’s deadly shooting left his Taser in his locker for at least a week.
One of the Seattle police officers who fatally shot Charleena Lyles is under internal investigation for violating department policy by leaving his uncharged Taser in his locker for more than a week leading up to the shooting, the Police Department’s civilian watchdog said Saturday.
Officer Jason Anderson, on the force for two years, told investigators after the shooting that he did not carry his Taser during his shift June 18, when the shooting occurred, according to interview transcripts released by Seattle police.
Seconds before the shooting, Anderson said, when Lyles pulled a knife, the other officer, Steven McNew, called out for him to use his Taser on her. Anderson replied that he didn’t have it, and within seconds, as Lyles began moving toward the two officers, Anderson said, they both shot her.
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Anderson said after the shooting that even if he had other less-lethal weapons, he would have shot Lyles because she had lunged at him with a knife and looked as if she was going to try to stab the other officer. Anderson said he feared for his life and had to suck in his stomach and move back to avoid being stabbed.
Anderson said that for the last couple of months he had been considering abandoning the Taser altogether, saying it was taking up too much space on his vest and belt for his slender frame. When the Taser’s battery died, he left it in his locker and didn’t get it recharged. He said it had been in his locker, uncharged, for one to two weeks.
Seattle police policy says officers who are trained in using Tasers and have been issued one must carry it with them during a shift. Anderson said he told his squadmates about forgoing the Taser, but did not mention telling any superiors.
Pierce Murphy, the civilian head of Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), said that after Anderson told detectives in interviews last week he had left the Taser behind, the department referred the case to the OPA for investigation.
Murphy’s internal investigation team will look to see if there were good reasons to explain why Anderson didn’t have his Taser. They’ll give their findings and a recommendation to police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who could discipline Anderson.
Murphy said the case was unusual and there aren’t set guidelines for disciplining officers found to be violating the Taser policy.
“There’s no cookbook here,” he said.
“Nothing but his gun”
Lyles had called police to her Northeast Seattle apartment to report a burglary last Sunday. Three children were inside during the shooting, including one who crawled onto Lyles after she was shot in the midsection and fell facedown on the floor, according to the police transcripts.
A day after the shooting, Lyles’ sister, Monika Williams, brought up the Taser issue and asked whyofficers couldn’t have taken her down without shooting her.
“Why couldn’t they have Tased her?” Williams said.
Following the release of the transcripts of the officers’ interviews, Williams’ sentiment was echoed Saturday by another sibling and the president of the Seattle-King County NAACP.
“The Taser would have helped,” said Domico Jones, Lyles’ younger brother. “I think any of those (less-lethal) weapons would have saved my sister’s life. My family wouldn’t be mourning today.”
Gerald Hankerson, the local NAACP president, called the revelation that Anderson did not bring his Taser “astonishing.”
“At the end of the day, this young lady is dead because this officer left his Taser in his locker,” Hankerson said. “He was ill-prepared and irresponsible to deal with the public, and this just shows he would rather go out in the community believing he needs nothing but his gun. That speaks volumes about his mentality.”
Hankerson added the officer’s claim that he would have used his gun even if he had the Taser isn’t supported by the audio recording of the shooting.
“Why would one officer call for a Taser during the incident?” Hankerson said. “That tells you right there the other officer apparently believed or knew less-than-lethal force was the only response that was necessary.”
Taser, baton, pepper spray
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the shooting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Room 130 of the University of Washington’s Kane Hall.
Council members said Saturday they could not comment on the case, citing a new law they passed barring them from making public statements on police investigations until they are complete.
The investigation, including whether Anderson could face any discipline, could run until December.
Murphy said Saturday it was too soon to predict what his office’s report might find or if other aspects of the case might bring additional investigations.
The 86-page transcript of detectives’ interviews with Anderson and McNew shed more light on the police account of what happened. But it also led to more questions.
For instance, Anderson at one point said he had not received training in how to disarm a person with a knife.
Later in the interview, he said he received training that calls for Taser officers dealing with someone with a knife to drop their Taser and pull out their gun.
Both officers said they have received crisis-intervention training.
Officers must carry at least one nonlethal weapon with them on duty. Anderson said in the interview that he had a baton and pepper spray, while McNew said he had a baton.
The shooting took place in close quarters, near the kitchen and doorway of Lyles’ two-bedroom apartment: Both officers said they were within about 5 feet of Lyles, and were not injured. They yelled “get back” before firing their guns.
Anderson noted that when he arrived, he saw an officer warning in his computer because police had reported an earlier incident with Lyles in which she allegedly pulled out scissors and told officers they couldn’t leave. Police drew their guns during that June 5 call.
Anderson said that incident prompted him to call for a backup officer before entering the apartment last Sunday, but he didn’t think it was necessary to call in an officer with a Taser because Lyles had reported being the victim of burglary.
A lawyer for the Lyles family did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.