The police department has released statements from each officer involved in the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles on Sunday, along with a diagram of her apartment where she died and photographs of knives found.
Seattle police Officer Jason Anderson told investigators Charleena Lyles suddenly pulled a knife out of her pocket and was “coming right at my stomach” during a burglary call Sunday that led to the fatal shooting of the 30-year-old mother of four in her apartment, according to statements released Friday evening.
Anderson’s description was contained in 86 pages of transcripts of recorded interviews with Anderson and second officer Steven McNew, who shot Lyles after she summoned the officers to her Northeast Seattle apartment to investigate what she described as a burglary of her unit.
The shooting of Lyles, an African American, by the two white officers has drawn condemnation from her family and sparked public outcry from others, who believe race was factor in the use of lethal force.
Lyles had struggled with mental-health issues, according to her family and court records.
Among the documents’ main points, Anderson reported he had both pepper spray and a baton and McNew had a baton (neither had Tasers), but they stated they were left with no choice but to use lethal force. The documents also included images of seven knives in the apartment, including one reportedly in her coat.
During questioning Tuesday, Anderson said he jumped back and sucked in his abdomen to avoid getting stabbed in the stomach with a knife 4 to 5 inches long.
Anderson, 32, who joined the department in 2015, said he drew his pistol, asked for fast backup on his radio and, along with McNew, told Lyles to “get back.”
He said McNew, 34, a Seattle officer since 2008, asked him to Taser Lyles. Anderson said he told McNew he didn’t have a Taser.
Lyles then began quickly advancing on McNew, Anderson said, describing himself as in “fear that she was gonna try and kill my partner um ’cause she was going after him.”
As Lyles turned a corner to go after McNew, Anderson said, he fired from 4 to 5 feet away and saw Lyles fall to the ground.
Anderson said he wasn’t carrying a Taser because the battery in his died two weeks earlier, but he told investigators he wouldn’t have used it anyway because he was trained to use lethal force when someone is attacking with a knife.
As he maintained cover with his gun on Lyles, Anderson said, McNew picked up a small child grabbing onto Lyles.
A third officer who arrived at the scene began giving first aid to Lyles, Anderson said, adding that he started to help before moving away as his hands were shaking.
Anderson said he was the first officer called to the scene Sunday morning, and that he asked for a second officer after discovering there was an officer-safety caution on Lyles stemming from a June 5 domestic-disturbance incident. In that case, she displayed a pair of long scissors at officers before dropping them. But Anderson said there was no need to frisk her because it was a typical burglary call.
Anderson said the conversation with Lyles began normally, involving what was missing in the apartment, before Lyles drew the knife as her “face changed completely.”
He said he did not have time to employ de-escalation techniques.
Video, audio releases
On Thursday, police released surveillance video from the hallway outside the apartment, which shows no one other than Lyles left or entered her apartment in the hours before she was shot.
The video was released by police along with audio of Lyles’ 911 call asking for an officer to respond to her apartment Sunday morning. In the call, Lyles told dispatchers that she had gone out that morning and came home to find someone had broken in.
“I’d like to report a break-in. Can an officer come to my home?” Lyles asks in the call, which was made at 8:55 a.m. Sunday, about 45 minutes before she was fatally shot.
“I just walked in. I noticed there’s some stuff missing out of my house. My door was open,” she said. She says she went out to the store earlier and came home to find her door ajar.
However, the surveillance video of the hallway posted Thursday shows no one other than Lyles leaving or entering the apartment in the hours before the shooting, police say.
McNew, who was interviewed Monday, said Anderson had told him that he had looked at Lyles’ past case when she had brandished scissors and tried to block or bar officers from leaving the apartment. He told Anderson that they weren’t “gonna let her get behind us or the door.”
The two officers buzzed into the building and then entered the apartment, which McNew said was somewhat dark and in disarray, with clothes on the floor and old food, including a half-eaten meatloaf that he guessed was 3 weeks old.
Two children were sitting on the floor as Anderson asked her questions about the burglary. She said she had gone to the store and someone had come in, but McNew noted that there was no sign of forced entry. Lyles was calm as she led the officers through the apartment. At one point she put her hand in the pocket of her black overcoat but didn’t pull anything out. He described her build as “somewhat slight,” much smaller than McNew, who is 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds.
“The kitchen was in complete disarray and there’s, there’s kids rolling around and I’m just trying to take in the situation and kind of assess what’s going on and then very quickly … a knife gets produced.”
McNew drew his gun and yelled at her to stop as he got on the radio that she had knives and they needed help. Anderson was separated from McNew by a bar, and the two were across from Lyles. McNew said Lyles pulled her hand back and he thought “ … you know she’s about to throw this thing.” McNew bent down expecting Lyles to throw the knife, but she instead made her way toward the area between the kitchen, living room and entryway, essentially trapping him in the kitchen area.
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McNew said he considered running out of the apartment but he couldn’t because she was visibly agitated with two knives and there were children at her feet.
Anderson was closer to the front door, where McNew couldn’t see him, but McNew saw Lyles move toward him. He said he realized he was trapped in the kitchen area, with his back to a wall and Lyles blocking his exit.
“She starts closing that gap to where she’s gonna cut off my, my avenue of escape and now I’m 3 feet from someone with two knives. And at that point fearing for what was about to happen, what she would do to me um, being stuck in that spot, I fired my handgun,” he said.
After she fell, McNew said, one of the children crawled toward her and rested his head against her body.
The officers hadn’t realized there was a third child, who came out of a bedroom. A third officer who arrived as backup eventually guided the boy out the apartment after McNew told him to shield his eyes from the boy’s mother.
When the apartment was cleared, McNew grabbed Anderson and told him “they’re gonna have questions” and to not talk about the shooting.
McNew carried a baton but didn’t have a Taser. Later in the interview, McNew said he felt like he didn’t have any other options.
“At the point where I decided to use force, as I explained before, the subject had unabated access to me, to my person, uh, and she was armed,” he said. “I didn’t feel that there was any other … reasonable alternative.”
Police released images of what appeared to be seven different kitchen knives of various sizes and styles. One of the knives, according to police, was found in her front coat pocket, along with a sheath, either in that pocket or another.
The rest of the knives, some of which were serrated, were found in different areas of her kitchen.
Anderson told investigators that instead of a carrying a Taser, he was carrying a baton and pepper spray as less-lethal alternatives — officers are required to carry at least one less lethal weapon.
He acknowledged he didn’t report to department officials that he wasn’t using his Taser because “I hadn’t made that decision to, uh, give it up. My battery had died so … I had put in my locker.”
According to the department manual, “Officers Who Have Been Trained and Certified to Carry a CEW (conducted electrical weapon) and Have Been Issued One Must Carry It During Their Shift. Officers must carry their CEW in a holster on their support side.”