Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Seattle police officer who shot hearing impaired woodcarver resigns

From the Seattle Times. In the picture, Rick Williams, right, said his brother John T. Williams, who was killed in a confrontation with a Seattle police officer Aug. 30, lost hearing in his left ear eight years ago. John Williams was part of the Nitinaht Tribe. His nephew, Paul Williams, left, said John was a seventh-generation carver.

Officer Ian Birk has resigned from the Seattle Police Department, according to Police Chief John Diaz.

Birk's resignation became effective at 4 p.m. Feb. 16.

According to a statement by Diaz, Birk communicated his intentions to him to resign his commission with the Police Department.

Birk, 27, joined the department in July 2008.

On Feb. 16, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said his office would not file criminal charges against Birk for the fatal shooting of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams on Aug. 30.

Diaz also announced that the shooting of Williams was ruled not justified by the department's Firearms Review Board.

Birk's resignation will not halt the department's internal investigation into Birk, Diaz said.

"At my direction, the Office of Professional Accountability investigation will continue forward," Diaz said. "The completion of this investigation is not contingent on Ian Birk remaining on the force. Reaching our own administrative conclusion is a necessary step to providing a small degree of closure to the many people affected by this tragedy over the past several months."

Diaz said that if the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) presents him with a recommendation for discipline it will be kept on file with the department and a copy will be sent to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

Depending on the department's findings, the move could prevent Birk from becoming a law enforcement officer anywhere in the state.

Joe Hawe, executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, said it will be up to the commission to review the case and conduct its own investigation.

"Our responsibility under the law is to review any investigative issue for the decertification of police officers," Hawe said.

If the commission determines that Birk should be decertified then "he would not be able to be a police officer in the state of Washington," Hawe said on Wednesday.

Satterberg's decision angered members of Williams' family and prompted a handful of public protests on Wednesday. Protesters outside Seattle City Hall cheered when they received word of Birk's resignation. Several chanted "prosecute!"

Birk had been stripped of his gun and badge last October as a result of a preliminary finding by the department that the shooting was unjustified.

Mayor Mike McGinn issued a statement in which he cited the OPA investigation and review board's findings. "It appears clear that Officer Birk saw the writing on the wall. He could read the same Firearms Review Board report that the rest of us did," McGinn said.

Attorney Ted Buck, who represented Birk during a January inquest into the shooting, called the officer's resignation "a heartbreaking thing."

"He is an extraordinary, committed young man," Buck said. "This is a career that has been tragically cut short. It's been an extraordinarily emotional and traumatic event, and he has decided it is in his best interest and his family's interest to simply move forward."

Rita Williams, John T. Williams' sister in Vernon, B.C., said Birk's resignation offered no comfort for her family.

"He still killed my brother. He basically got away with murder," she said. "If I shot anyone in the police station they would have all hung me by now. We should all go back to the olden ways, when he would have to pay for what he had done."

Andrea Brenneke, attorney for the Williams family, said that her clients are "heartened" by the fact the Seattle Police Department will continue its investigation into Birk. She said that "it's good for everyone" that the findings will be forwarded to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

"It simply means that within this department and within other departments he will be held accountable for what he did in this case," she said. "It's important for the community to know that. It is of critical importance."

Brenneke said that Birk's resignation will not impact potential civil actions that could be brought by the Williams family.