The jury in the coroner’s inquest into the death of Charleena Lyles heard wrenching testimony Tuesday about how one of Lyles’ young children had crawled on top of his mother, who lay face down and dying after being shot seven times by police.
Officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew had responded to Lyles’ apartment the morning of June 18, 2017, after she reported a burglary. Just minutes after arriving, the officers say, Lyles produced a “knife or knives,” and the officers responded with orders to “get back!” and then a volley of gunfire.
Seattle police Detective Jason Dewey, formerly a member of the department’s Force Investigation Team, was the first to testify in the long-delayed inquest, which was put on hold roughly five years after County Executive Dow Constantine halted the process, concluding it had wandered from its fact-finding purpose and unfairly favored law enforcement.
Dewey told the jury that a computer-assisted dispatch timeline showed that less than four minutes passed between the time the officers knocked on Lyles’ apartment door and reported “shots fired!”
An audio recording from microphones the officers were wearing indicated whatever threat the officers perceived developed quickly: One moment, they’re talking to Lyles about items she claimed had been stolen, and the next they’re yelling, “Get back!” and firing gunshots.
McNew yelled, “Taser!” and Anderson said, “I don’t have a Taser!” Both officers were armed with batons and pepper spray, but neither resorted to the less-lethal alternatives.
Anderson fired four rounds and McNew fired three. Nineteen seconds elapsed from their order to “get back!” to the report of shots fired, Dewey testified.
Lyles collapsed face first onto a wood floor in a short hallway between her kitchen and living room, and one of her four children crawled onto her as she lay bleeding. A second child was also present at the time of the shooting, and a third soon emerged from a bedroom.
Dewey read a portion of Anderson’s statement into the record: “One of the little babies crawled out and was resting his head against her.”
According to Dewey, neither officer attempted to use any other weapon or to go hands-on with Lyles.
Anderson was supposed to have a Taser, but in a decision that later prompted discipline, he had left the device in his locker, saying it had malfunctioned.
During the confusion leading up to the shooting, Lyles was heard on the tape saying, “Do it,” Dewey told Karen Cobb, one of the officers’ attorneys. It wasn’t immediately clear what Lyles was referring to.
Tuesday, the first day of the inquest, began with the jurors being shown a short video describing Lyles as having grown up in poverty and having “struggled” with mental illness her whole life. She never graduated from high school, worked menial jobs and was living in subsidized housing for people with mental or developmental disabilities.
The inquest jury will be asked to determine the facts surrounding Lyles’ death, whether SPD policy was followed and whether any “criminality” was involved. Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, said a senior deputy prosecutor was monitoring the proceedings.
While Satterberg’s office has made a preliminary determination that no crime occurred, his office will defer making a final decision pending the outcome of the inquest. The SPD found the shooting to be within policy.
Lyles was 30 years old and four months pregnant when she was killed. Dewey testified that she stood 5-foot-3 and weighed 110 pounds.
McNew is 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. Anderson’s height and weight were not reported; however, he acknowledged in a report he was “taller and heavier” than Lyles.
Just days before the shooting, Lyles had assaulted other police officers in her apartment with a pair of scissors, according to police reports Dewey referenced. A report and officer-safety alert stated she had told officers in that June 5, 2018, incident that she and one of her children were going to turn into wolves.
Her father, Charles Lyles, who was attending Tuesday’s hearing, was furious during a break in the proceedings.
“They just left her there to die,” he said, referencing dispatch records that indicate his daughter may have laid bleeding for more than five minutes before any officer attempted to provide medical or first aid.
The city last year paid the Lyles family $3.5 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.