The administrator overseeing the coroner’s inquest into the 2017 shooting death of Charleena Lyles by Seattle police closed the hearing to the public Thursday after two jurors and two attorneys tested positive for the coronavirus.
The inquest remains viewable via Zoom, and archived copies of each day’s testimony are available at the King County Inquest Program website.
Eight jurors are empaneled to hear testimony delving into the facts surrounding the June 18, 2017, death of Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old mother of four who was killed after Seattle police officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew said she lunged at them with a small kitchen knife while they were investigating her report of a burglary at her apartment.
The city of Seattle has settled a lawsuit filed by the Lyles family for $3.5 million.
Inquest rules require that at least four jurors hear the testimony, then answer questions related to the incident. Two of the remaining six jurors have requested to be allowed to complete hearing testimony remotely. Michael Spearman, the inquest administrator, declined that request.
On Wednesday, two of the attorneys in the case — Melanie Nguyen, who was representing the Lyles family, and Ted Buck, an attorney for the officers — tested positive for the coronavirus. Buck is now participating via Zoom.
The inquest is moving toward its conclusion after six days of testimony. The last two witnesses to be heard will be McNew and Anderson.
Also Thursday, Spearman admonished the lawyers in the case to avoid talking to reporters after publicity over a controversial decision by Seattle police last week to send members of its SWAT team “as a precaution” to the Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center after a verbal confrontation between members of the Lyles family and McNew, who walked through a group of family members outside the center.
Several family members said they were threatened by the decision, and others declined to attend the hearing until Spearman assured them that there was no danger.
The confrontation took place June 22 after a grim day of testimony that included photos of Lyles’ body surrounded by medical equipment and bloody dressings, photos of the bloodstained hallway where she collapsed, and a video and heart-rending testimony about the reaction of three of her children who were in the apartment. One child crawled on top of her body and two others were led from the apartment by an officer, who told them to close their eyes and not look at their dying mother.
The SWAT officers responded to the inquest site two days after the confrontation, surprising King County sheriff’s deputies responsible for security at the center.
Buck was critical of coverage of the incident, and on Thursday said he resented the “allusion” that “there are active threats to members of the family by the SWAT team.” Buck said the media blew the incident out of proportion.
Spearman, earlier in the week, called the decision to have SWAT respond to the inquest “excessive.”