The shooting of a pregnant mother killed by police in a 2017 shooting has been justified by a jury and the family is upset and stunned by the outcome after a July 6 inquest.
“I’m numb, some folks were all on the continuum, but I don’t think any of us have gotten past what happened,” said Katrina Johnson, the cousin of Charleena Lyles, the woman killed by police.
Lyles was killed by two Seattle Police officers on June 18, 2017, after Lyles reported a suspected burglary. On July 6, at a jury inquest hearing, the jury found the Seattle officers justified to use deadly force against Lyles.
“They shot her three times in her back,” Johnson said after learning the jury justified the shooting.
Just two weeks before the deadly shooting on June 5, 2017, Seattle officers arrived at Lyles’ apartment after she claimed she had been a victim of domestic violence. Court documents indicate police were familiar with Lyles, as she had previously called police 23 times within six months before she was killed.
Johnson says Lyles suffered from mental illness and police knew it.
“There was a safety caution from June 5th, that they could see that stated she thought the kids were going to morph into wolves, and they were able to put time and deescalate that situation, but when you don’t have a plan and you put piss-poor planning before you go into someone and you’re having to make split-second decisions instead of the best decisions in a split second, these are the outcomes,” Johnson said.
On June 18, 2017, the day Lyles was killed, she called police after she noticed her Xbox and other household items missing, Johnson says police should have known to handle the situation with care because of Lyles’ known mental illness history.
Lyles, who was pregnant at the time, had three of her children in the home as police responded to her call of a suspected burglary. Officer Jason Anderson testified Lyles was calm at first, but then suddenly grabbed a knife and lunged at him.
Officer Steven McNew testified he was cornered in the kitchen as Lyles faced him with the knife, neither of the officers had their taser, and, believing Lyles was going to stab them, they shot her seven times according to the medical examiner.
“The officer said he could have gotten out because he was the one that was supposedly trapped in the kitchen, he could have gotten out, but he was worried about my cousin’s children,” Johnson said.
“I sit with that every day. You’re worried about her kids, so you shoot their mother in front of them, and now they have no mother, so how can you be worried about them when their mental health will always, be scarred by what you did?” Johnson said angrily of the shooting before Lyles’ children.
In November 2017, the Seattle Police Department’s review board found, “the two officers used proper tactics and decision-making and followed their training,” as reported by the Seattle Times.
In December 2021, Lyles’ family reached a settlement amounting to $3.5 million with the city of Seattle in a wrongful death lawsuit.
“It was a $3.5 million settlement, but that’s not true accountability. True accountability is somebody will mean somebody is held criminally liable for killing Charleena Lyles,” Johnson said.
King County, Washington, has a law on the books that requires there be, “an inquest into causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of law enforcement in the course of their duties.”
The six jurors determined although the officers failed to comply with department policy for not having their nonlethal taser on their persons, the jurors felt the taser would not be enough to offset a knife attack and determined the officers were justified in their use of force against Lyles.
“Charleena’s killing was one of the highest profile cases in the state of Washington and it was a piss-poor investigation and at the bare minimum, I’d like a new investigation into the death of Charleena Lyle before we can even tackle prosecution,” Johnson said.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, is still investigating the case and his findings could mean the officers either face criminal charges or walk free.
In a statement sent to Atlanta Black Star, the prosecutor’s office says, “Charleena Lyles’ death is a tragedy. Details of the incident shared at the inquest are heartbreaking. My office had a senior deputy prosecuting attorney observing the inquest process.
In the coming weeks, we will review all of the admissible evidence that was presented at the inquest and the jury’s answers to each of the interrogatories and make a final charging decision.”
Johnson says although Lyles’ children will forever be scarred by seeing their mother die before them, seeing the officers who killed her sentenced to prison will help them heal.
“Three of them experienced their mother being killed right in front of them and reliving that over and over and over again. Unless there’s criminal charges, we’re going to continue fighting for her,” Johnson said.