Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council

February 17, 2011 01:25 ET

Seattle Police Officer Must Be Held Accountable

Attention: Assignment Editor, News Editor, World News Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor PORT ALBERNI, BC, NEWS RELEASE--(Marketwire - Feb. 17, 2011) - The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council was shocked and dismayed to learn today that the King County Prosecutor's office will not bring charges against Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk for the shooting death of John T. Williams, a carver with roots in Ditidaht First Nation, Vancouver Island, BC.

Birk fatally shot Williams on Aug. 30, 2010 as he was making his way along a busy downtown street. Birk fired his weapon within a few short seconds of calling to Williams to drop the knife he was using to carve a block of wood.

"This decision is hugely significant to us, with so many Nuu-chah-nulth people living in Seattle," said Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Vice-President Priscilla Sabbas-Watts. "Birk and the Seattle Police Department must be held accountable."

The King County Prosecutor claims that Washington law gives police officers an added level of protection against criminal liability in such cases, unless it can be proved that an officer acts with malice or in bad faith. Yet the Seattle Police Department's own Firearms Review Board concludes that Birk's shooting of Williams was not justified. Seattle Police Chief John Diaz called the shooting "egregious" and the board's review of it the most "damning" in three decades.

Sabbas-Watts said there is a clear disconnect between the prosecutor's conclusions of the shooting and those of the Seattle Police.

"Ian Birk did not act in good faith when he engaged John T. Williams," said Sabbas-Watts. "John was visibly a carver. He was carrying a legal knife and a block of wood. He was not menacing; not threatening the public in any way. So why was Birk so quick to fire five shots from his gun?"

Sabbas-Watts said Birk violated the policies and procedures set out by his own department and shouldn't get "a pass," just because he is a police officer.

"There has to be some middle ground in situations where there is such an obvious disregard of policy and procedure."

She said John T. Williams faced a number of social issues and was receiving fantastic support from the community of the Chief Seattle Club, which was devastated by Williams' tragic death. There is a large Native American population in Seattle and Seattle Police need to become aware of who these people are.

"Reach out to the local Native Nations to learn about their culture. Work with the organizations that deal with the marginalized and diverse minority populations that make up Seattle," Sabbas-Watts said.

She said it is time now to explore such opportunities rather than wait for another incident to occur. "If Birk won't be held criminally responsible for the death of John T. Williams, then lessons must be learned from his terrible mistake." IN: JUSTICE, OTHER

Contact Information

  • Priscilla Sabbas-Watts, Vice-President
    Primary Phone: 250-724-5757