The Seattle Police Department has released dash cam audio of the fatal shooting of a 30-year-old Black woman in Magnuson Park over the weekend.
Seattle police can be heard shouting “Get back! Get back!’ before opening fire on expectant mother Charleena Lyles on Sunday, June 18, minutes after she’d called to report a burglary at her apartment earlier that morning, The Seattle Times reported. Authorities alleged that at some point, Lyles pulled out a knife, prompting the officers to shoot.
Cries from at least one of her children can be heard in the background, according to the audio released Monday, June 19.
The department has since confirmed that both responding officers are white.
“Why couldn’t they have tased her?” Monika Williams, Lyles’ sister, asked Sunday as she tried to make sense of why police shot and killed the mother-to-be. “They could’ve taken her down — I could have taken her down. What is she going do to all you police?”
Distraught and teary-eyed, Lyles’ family members told police that the mother of three was several months pregnant and had been struggling with mental health issues over the past year. They said she was concerned that the authorities would come and take her kids, one of whom suffers from Down Syndrome.
— Steve McCarron KOMO (@SteveTVNews) June 18, 2017
The woman’s family added that they believe race played a factor in the killing.
Seattle police said they received a burglary call from Lyles around 10 a.m., prompting a two-officer response due to a previous encounter they’d had with the woman earlier this month. Authorities said they arrived at the Brettler Family Place complex and went up to the fourth-floor unit where Lyles reportedly displayed a knife. That’s when officers fired their guns, striking her in the abdomen and the chest.
“There were several children inside the apartment at the time of the shooting, but they were not injured,” the department said in a statement. “They’re being cared for by other family members at this time.”
Lyles’ death has since sparked national outrage, as critics took to social media to mourn the death of yet another African-American killed by law enforcement. By Monday morning, #CharleenaLyles was among the top trending topics on Twitter.
— Javon Johnson (@javonism) June 19, 2017
Why would any Black person ever call the police? They were not created to protect us. They are killing us. I'm so tired.#CharleenaLyles
— Shantira Jackson (@tira_tira_tira) June 19, 2017
— Gabrielle (@GabzRubaine) June 19, 2017
My heart is so heavy #CharleenaLyles , yall don't understand how exhausted I am.
— Courtney Shav (@courtney_shav) June 19, 2017
Beth Caldwell, a former civil rights attorney in Seattle, weighed in on Sunday’s tragedy and highlighted the racial dynamics that likely came into play in Lyles’ killing.
“I firmly believe that being Black and mentally ill is what led to her death,” Caldwell said via direct message on Twitter. “Seattle’s police have a long history of treating people of color more harshly, and our north precinct, where Ms. Lyles lived, is notorious for racism.”
“When you combine race with mental illness, Ms. Lyles didn’t stand a chance,” she added. “It breaks my heart that her children will grow up without a mother. And I would be shocked if the officers are ever convicted in her murder.”
In a statement Sunday afternoon, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray described the shooting a “tragedy for all involved.”
“My thoughts are with the many people impacted, including three children and the responding officers,” Murray said.
The deadly shooting is expected to be reviewed by the department’s Force Investigation Team and the Office of Professional Accountability, according to the mayor and city police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. The King County Prosecutor’s Office also will take part in reviewing the incident.
The Seattle Times noted that the SPD has been under a federal consent decree since 2012 after an investigation by the Justice Department found that its officers regularly engaged in excessive use of force, particularly against people with mental or substance abuse issues. Government investigators also found evidence of racially biased policing.
A federal court-appointed overseer recently found encouraging signs that the department had made notable progress in its police reform efforts.