Federal prosecutors have closed the case against the former Seattle Police Department officer who shot and killed a Nuu-Chah-Nulth woodcarver in 2010.
U.S. District Attorney spokesperson Thomas Bates announced on Friday January 13 that his office will not pursue federal criminal charges against Ian Birk, 29, for the September 2010 shooting of John T. Williams in Seattle.
A comprehensive investigation by federal prosecutors and the FBI agents determined that “the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the former Seattle police officer acted willfully and with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids," Bates noted.
Federal prosecutors failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Birk willfully deprived Williams of a constitutional right by deliberately and specifically intending to do something the law forbid, the DA’s statement said.
“This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law,” Bates said. "Accident, mistake, fear, negligence or bad judgment is not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation."
Williams, 50, was shot on August 30, 2010, after a seven-second encounter with Birk during which the officer noticed him weaving across the street holding a piece of wood and a carving knife. When Williams ignored Birk's command to put the knife down, the officer shot him five times.
Officials from the justice department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI met with representatives of Williams’ family on Friday to inform them of the decision.
The decision "is a great disappointment to his family," said attorney Tim Ford to the Seattle Times. The family "wished they hadn't set the bar so high."
Williams was one of seven siblings, and a member of the Ditidaht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Tribal chief councilor Jack Thompson couldn’t be reached for comment.
The D.A.'s announcement was news to Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council President Cliff Atleo. The Nuu-chah-Nulth Tribal Council is the political advocacy and public service arm to 14 tribes on Vancouver Island's west coast, including the Ditidaht.
“It’s a disappointment to hear because I characterized this event as a tragedy a long time ago,” Atleo said. “I can’t say any more than that right now.”
The announcement comes one year after the King County prosecutor’s office decided not to pursue charges against Birk. State law protects officers from criminal prosecution when they act in good faith, the prosecutor’s office noted.
The results of an inquest released in 2011 were inconclusive about whether Williams actually posed a threat to Birk, or if Williams appeared threatening.
In 2011, the Seattle Police Department’s firearms review board ruled that the shooting was unjustified and recommended that Birk be dismissed from the force. Also last year the City of Seattle paid $1.5 million to Williams's family for claims brought against the municipality.