Seattle Pays $1.5M to Family of Victim of Police Shooting

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver, died after being shot 4 times by Officer Ian Birk on August 30, 2010. Dashcam video is shown below.

Birk resigned Feb. 16 after the release of a scathing report by the Firearms Review Board report that found, among other problems, that Birk didn’t identify himself as a police officer as he approached Williams from behind. Williams was crossing the intersection while carving on a piece of wood with a legal knife (shown here in a police photo). The knife was folded shut when found by officers.

Williams, who was deaf in one ear, was shot in the side, not facing the officer.

Officer Birk was not criminally charged in the shooting.

H/T: Daily Kos, The Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, Seattle Pi.

72 thoughts on “Seattle Pays $1.5M to Family of Victim of Police Shooting

  1. This case was commented on in police blogs like PoliceOne:

    Unreal. I saw this video when it first occurred, and have stood firmly behind Officer Birk from the word go. Although the video does not show the shooting itself, the verbal commands are clear, concise and firm. A man openly carrying a knife, who crouches confrontationally towards a uniformed police officer who has emerged from a marked police car with its emergency equipment activated is a clear threat to the public welfare, and must be stopped. The officer acted not only without malice and in good faith, but also in agreement with the use of force continuum and inside the the requirements of Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Conner. As an instructor and an officer, I can only pray this decision, and the many recent similar decisions by administrators and litigators, will not cause I or any other officer to hesitate to take decisive action if and when the need arises. Shame on the city – and best of luck to Officer Birk.

    Emphasis mine.

  2. The firearms review board report – made up entirely of LEOs – has some very stark conclusions. If you cannot even get any equivocation from fellow officers you probably screwed up big time.

    I try to be sympathetic to police, they have a shitty job that requires them to deal with a lot of shitty people, sometimes in dangerous situations. But there has always been a history of abuses by some percentage of them that taints the work they all do. Like incompetent doctors, lawyers and judges they are most easily identified by their own. Instead of protecting the bad apples they need to point them out & demand better.

  3. Didn’t know that the motto of the Seattle police is “Shoot first and ask questions later” or maybe it’s “Shoot them all and let God sort it all out”.

    I might not have charged him but I sure in the hell would have fired him….If your afraid to do this job find something else safer to do…

  4. A man openly carrying a knife
    It’s not clear in the video,

    who crouches confrontationally towards a uniformed police officer
    Not seen at all, pure delusion.

    emerged from a marked police car with its emergency equipment activated is a clear threat to the public welfare,
    The Cop was a threat to the public welfare and should of been stopped.

    The officer acted not only without malice and in good faith
    Requires further evidence not at hand.

  5. “Like incompetent doctors, lawyers and judges they are most easily identified by their own. Instead of protecting the bad apples they need to point them out & demand better.” (frank)

    I’m in complete agreement

  6. $1.5 million sounds like a low number for this “murder” of a citizen by a police officer. What video was the guy from Police One looking at? It must have been a different one from the one I watched. Sad!

  7. My meager observations are these:

    1. I see no indication there were innocent people around to be injured by the “man with a knife.”

    2. The man was not flailing the knife around, acting in a menacing manner. He was carving something. That would appear to bear some level of inquiry by the officer, to detemine the frame of mind of the pedestrian.

    3. It was the officer who initiated the contact; accelerated the pace of which the encounter played out. As the man appears to be walking in the opposite direction of the patrol car, it was the officer who made the decision to get close enough, to put himself in lethal range of a knife.

    As Frank pointed out, the Review Board is cops. If you can’t even get any equivocation from fellow officers you probably screwed up big time.

    “Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer, who authored the report, said Birk’s actions were ‘among the most egregious failings that I have seen.'”

    I don’t see how any fair observer could disagree with that.

  8. The end of the (above) story, as Paul Harvey used to say:

    Russia’s Parliament rejected more substantive oversight. Proposals included bans on entering homes without warrants or beating women with rubber batons at street protests. Russian lawmakers discussed the second item, but eventually dismissed it as discriminatory against men.

    Other changes in the law are cosmetic, including renaming the force “police” from the Soviet-era “militia.” The former officers in Colony No. 13 were particularly skeptical that the name change would make much of a difference.

    “Before we were the militia; now we’re the police,” scoffed Ruslan A. Aslanov, a former officer from the Ural Mountain town of Chelyabinsk, who said that he was in prison for rupturing a suspect’s spleen while making an arrest. “Nothing changed, really.”

  9. IF he actually felt the need to shoot, why not immobilize the “threat”…shot to the leg maybe?

  10. Wasn’t there a South Park where the kids go hunting and are allowed to shoot rare animals as long as they shout “It’s coming right for us!” After all, if it’s coming right at you it’s self defense. Apparently if you run right at it, it’s the same solution.

  11. if none of you will do something about shit like this, it will keep going on, and it will reach the point where your refusal to act will make you more complicit than the cops (i would argue that it already has, actually)

    so, do something or shut the fuck up, you little cracker babies.

  12. I know in some jurisdictions (such as my own, Maine) it’s illegal to “shoot to maim” even by a cop. If you take out the gun, you best mean to kill with it.

    That being said, I saw this video, and all I could think was what was going through that cops mind? “I hate my job and I wanna kill just one person and get away with it before I quit”? Seriously to say that this was a justified act is like saying Osama Bin Laden should have been the next Pope. The man was obviously no threat to anyone, he wasn’t crouching “confrontationally towards a uniformed police officer who has emerged from a marked police car with its emergency equipment activated”. He was WALKING AWAY. If he was crouching towards the officer, then how the hell did the cop manage to shoot him four times in the BACK AND SIDE?! He made NO EFFORT to run, he did NOTHING ILLEGAL! This was quite possibly the WORST abuse of the uniform I have ever seen in my life.

  13. Not understanding the need to shoot a 50 yr old man with a 3 in. blade carving wood. If the officer felt threatened he should have backed away from the threat. Unlike a firearm, a knife has very short range….

  14. “…who crouches confrontationally towards a uniformed police officer…”

    Yeah, nothing like crouching to frighten a police officer. Lucky the guy didn’t lay down with his hands behind his back – they would have called the swat team.

  15. Knive huh?

    You killed a man for walking with a knife?

    How will you live with yourself?

    Maybe you’ll kill yourself from the misery you will relive over and over again…” He had it open.” “I told him multiple times”. I feel sorry for your family, when they find out just how important it was for you to kill that innocent man.

    Maybe before you do you do off yourself you will educate other bad cops about their fate?

    Nothing worse than a rotten cop.


  16. What video did the guy who made the first post see? I saw a guy whittling who probably didnt even notice somebody pull up. He shot a guy that might as well have been my grandfather whittling a stick. Criminal charges should have followed, they would have for anybody else.

  17. Don’t you just love our Law Enforcement. They murder innocent people so we don’t have to.

  18. Puzzling – you and the officer in this video disgust me. The fact that you even ATTEMPT to justify this irrationality proves to me that you are obviously some sort of enforcement officer trying to watch out for his fellow officers. This is murder in almost the purest form. Misuse of power and just plain stupid. If the person in question shows no evidence of understanding or even hearing the commands issued that does not allow the officer to shoot. I would understand if the victim had started coming at the officer with the knife, but that is obviously not the case. 1.5 million dollars does not cover the fact that this, in a word, stupid officer took an innocent life.

  19. This man deserves to go to hell. I hope someone in his family is shot mistakenly by the police so that he can experience the same pain he caused this family. I am so outraged, this man should be in prison.

  20. Unbelievable! From what I saw on the video, this man was CASUALLY WALKING across the street ALONE. I saw no one in front of him or behind him close by. His head was facing down towards his hands & his attention seemed 2b focused on what he was doing with whatever he had in his hands. He was NOT RUNNING, his body language did not suggest that he was acting out, nervous or posing a threat to anyone.

    The officer approached him from the rear coming from a diagonal position & he did not first identify himself as a police officer! In my opinion, this officer “assumed” that this man may have been a threat because of the knife. Had he just “responded” which requires some thought first, instead of “reacting”, which is based on emotion; I m sure the outcome would not have been a loss of life. This officer’s approach to this poor man should have been different…PERIOD!

    I wonder if the victim was even aware that having his knife out in public in the manner in which he did was against the law or was a possibility that he would draw trouble. In this case, perhaps his possible lack of knowledge along with the ignorant manner & ignorance of the officer-cost him his life.

    Also, I wonder how the officer feels now that he learned that this man was deaf in one ear & he was simply carving something.
    He does not even deserve the title of officer! More like a renegade cop.

  21. There is really nothing more despicable these days than a “cop.” They are simply America’s largest gang of murderers, torturers, and thieves with badges. And when one of them gets caught they call him a “bad apple,” even though they all try to circle the wagons and protect him as long as they can.

    That’s what really stains the badges. Not that there are a few “bad apples,” but that the rest of those scum automatically act to protect him, including lying to the media and in police reports.

    Again, there is really nothing more despicable these days than a “cop.” Fuck them all. They are despicable scum.

  22. Cop sees man doing something creative.

    Cop is not creative, cop is baffled.

    Cop draws gun.

    Cop approaches and yells at man.

    Man doesn’t immediately cower in terror.

    Cop shoots man to prove who has bigger balls.

  23. What pisses me off is that people who didn’t give a fuck about this homeless guy are now cashing in on his wrongful death.

  24. i currently know that there is a group searching out this corrupt dog of a police officer and when he gets 4 bullets in the back of his head justice will be done. this message is brought to you by GOD.

  25. I have a problem with this, it says that he crouched confrontationally yet got shot in the back. What, did he crouch facing the officer then quickly turn aroud?!

  26. Its PUNK cops like this I just LOVE to hear about in the news thatget clipped in the line of duty! Worthless P O S

  27. The old man was crouching, cop shoots him in the back. Sounds like a text book execution to me.
    Maybe the P.D. wouldn’t have been so critical of the cop if he hadn’t wasted ammo, one shot to the back of the head, should have sufficed.
    The trouble with things like this is the effect it will eventually have on the populace. That is, if you figure the authorities are going to kill you anyway, you have nothing to lose. And when people have nothing to lose they fight back.

  28. Ian Birk would have a made a great SS officer in the Nazi regime, wouldn’t you agree? Its this kind of thinking that you can trade one human life for many(facist/marxist) thats going to land a nuke on us. Everyone wants to play GOD, but do much better at playing DOG! Congratulations Mr. Birk, you’ve KILLED an innocent man, take your badge away, put you in Texas, you’d be playing musical chairs with ol’ sparky. I hope you dedicate the rest of your life to fixing your mistakes, and don’t spend an eternity in the kharmatic wheel.

  29. If you cannot confront a man who holds a knife, what kind of combat training did you go to? Fat cops nowadays…….
    I have seen cops who can’t even run a mile.

  30. Ian Birk needs to be put in prison to rot for the rest of his idiotic life. All you hot heads out there wearing a badge you need to chill the fuck out. If your scared of a deaf guy with a pocket knife, maybe you need to find another, more safe career.

  31. I would like to thank user Puzzling for making me aware of There should be no refuge or dirty corner of the internet where these scumbags should be able to hide. That is how groups like the KKK, Nazis, and terrorists get started. Police are not the law. They are regular citizens like you or I entrusted with protecting other citizens.

    The law enables police to protect other citizens to the best of their abilities. THAT should be their priority. Let judges and politicians protect the law. At best this policemen acted to protect himself. At worst he provoked and sought out a confrontation with this man, which is murder.

  32. Fuck the police. Where I live, they are all crooked as hell and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they would shoot you for no damn good reason. There is no excuse for a cop to shoot a man in the back, he should be criminally charged for murder. Or really, since he’s a cop and it wouldn’t get through, the citizens ought to just take care of it and give him the execution he gave this innocent man. I mean really, shooting him because he had a knife? He wasn’t attacking, and that is the type of situation pepper spray/tazers are used for. Fuck this cop, fuck every other crooked cop, and fuck the dumbass who wrote what was quoted in the very first post.

  33. Murder. And he should have been tried as a murderer. I know the police have a tough job, but it doesn’t excuse this behavior. This man is a menace.

  34. Be careful if you are in the city eating a steak dinner. If the officer tells you to drop the steak knife you better do so, and before 4 seconds have expired. Or you will be executed too.

  35. To say this cop was justified in his shooting of this man is like saying Obama is a conservative white man! The man was shot 4 times in the back and side! He was NOT crouched in a menacing way! The police are out of control! I respect law enforcement and realize they have a tough job, however this guy is an idiot and NEEDS to be in jail for murder! Had the man been charging him I could understand and would stand with him! This is obviously not the case here. Also of note, did anyone notice all the other cops drawing their weapons on arrival when this man was obviously not even twitching? They were hoping to fire also! We’re in serious trouble, folks! Arm yourselves and be ready!

  36. I don’t get why alot of you are agreeing or saying that the cop was justified in shooting the dude… ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?, the cop could have handled the situation more professionally rather then being a pussy and shooting the man. ( if you guys didn’t watch the video, the cop was about at least 6-7 feet away from the man )

    He could have used……something….like a…..TASER AT LEAST!

    The cop shot him in the BACK! THE FUCKING BACK OK…. why the fuck would some of you side with the POLICE OFFICER???

    What I just saw was MURDER… the cop should be put away like that stupid white boy that shot Oscar Grant in Oakland!

  37. My grandfather my father and myself and my kids were all in danger from this man. We all carried knives and we all liked to carve. I can assure you that if I heard someone come up behind me and started to yell at me “drop the knife” I probably would not have either.

    Deaf or not there was no reason to shot the guy. He never charged, I doubt he made any threatening moves. He just shot him.

    5 times.
    Listen to the whole thing. The cop never says he threatened him an any way. Only that he was carving up that board.

  38. Puzzeling- Your an immoral piece of shit. your on a power trip and should have all rights as an officer revoked and YOU should be put in jail along with this officer. If hes going to shoot everyone with a knife or that doesnt react the way he wants within 4 seconds of his first verbal warning then hes going to be constantly killing everyone. lol it just doesnt work like that. People like you are the reason Police have lost all dignity and respect in my eyes and the eyes of most citizens. Your the criminals

  39. The additional issue is why the police are emptying their guns into citizens. Even though the shooting was inappropriate, would not one shot have sufficed? Ever more frequently in deadly force situations police are executing people, plain and simple. This is clearly being taught in their training. They are not discerning any level of threat once deciding to use a gun (and I have heard the highly questionable rationale for this.) One of the questions becomes, is this execution trend proper public policy, and is there proper justification for providing police shooting victims almost no chance of survical? Are these deaths a result of a desire to limit liability, ie: when the victim is dead there is only one side to the story, the officers (with the exception on rare occasions of records like dash-cams.) What would have the officers story been, and what doubt would there have been, if the video did not exist?

    Also note the blog post above where jurisdictions are trying to make video recording of police an illegal activity. The circle is becoming rather clear.

    I would also like to see a study of when this change in training occurred and an examination of its genesis (if the change did actually occur), and also figures on police shooting victims, related to survivability rates, monetary liability to jurisdictions and any change in culpability figures for officers whether professionally or criminally.

    If we see survivability goes down, and in turn monetary liability and officer accountability goes down in lockstep, their is likely a positive feedback loop of ethical corruption.

  40. I have a feeling anyone trying to defend the cop is majorly biased by either knowing the guy, working for seatle government or some sort of misc cop apologist.

  41. @Steve: I have heard police say they are shooting multiple rounds because 1 bullet will not stop a crazed madman on PCP.

    My question is how many crazed madmen on PCP are there?

    I would guess the number of times a victim has been shot vs. how many times the victim was on PCP is quite low.

    This also brings into question the value of the lives at stake. The suspect has not been convicted of a crime and in the United States is innocent so why is stopping him worth more than the value of the police officer’s life? The police officer has knowingly taken a dangerous job. The suspect may be completely innocent and not intending to put himself in a dangerous situation.

    Therefor firing 4 or 5 bullets into an unconvicted man purely for the protection of the officer means we have cowardly police officers. If a police officer cannot assume some level of danger in protecting the public then he is not adding any protection to the public at all. He is instead travelling around being more of a danger to unconvicted men and women.

    So yes, Steve it appears we train our police to be over-reactive cowards that appear to be more dangerous and have less ability to diffuse and protect the public than your average man on the street. They are always preparing for the worst case scenario and end up causing a net escalation in violence on the street. Every confrontation is turned into the worst possible.

    Instead police could try to act more toward the spirit of the law assuming the best case scenario. This would be more dangerous to the police, but encourage good behavior in the public.

    In final. If officer Birk with all his weapons and armor was more afraid of John T. Williams than everyone walking casually by then he caused a net increase in fear and violence. This should be avoided.

  42. I hadn’t even seen the video, just read the report when I posted my first comment. After seeing the video it is even more clear that Birk (who does not deserve the title of officer), should be prosecuted for murder, plain and simple. The man walking along does not even appear to be any sort of threat to anyone at all. He had his back turned and being partially deaf couldn’t even hear the commands. Why did Birk even approach him in the first place? He was carrying a legal knife, not threatening anyone. Words can’t even express the hatred I have for cops like him, and there are plenty of them out there.

  43. Are you fucking shitting me? It takes 11 cops with guns drawn to approach a man who has been shot 4 times, is laying motionless without the knife in his hand, and they say “he is the designated shooter, and will shoot him again if need be..”? What the fuck? All 11 of those cops, having seen the situation, and not rushing to the man’s aid are all complicit in the murder. ALL FUCKING 11 OF THEM. And then to make it worse, while he is wounded and dying, if he isn’t already dead, they FUCKING THROW HIM over to handcuff him when they should have been rushing him to a hospital. Fuck all of those cops.

  44. @Evan i think that was the best observation about the event posted yet. I have a troubling theory as to why they didnt rush him to the hospital. all the cops show up see what happened and new that if William the woodcarver lived to point his finger at the aggressive thug (i think some people call them pigs, or cops or whatever) than the city of seattle would have been sued so badly that all those thugs who created a phalanx against the downed woodcarver would have been fired, imprisoned, and revoked of ever being allowed back into their gang.

    as to everyone getting mad at puzzleman up there posting, you all do realize that he is copy pasting one of the officers report from a website. which is even more disturbing that not only do these thugs get to kill people for fun, they also get to turn the whole story around to make the little old woodcarver look like osama bin ladin on PCP with a nuke strapped to his chest. the world is now a safer place w/o the deaf old woodcarver?
    i cant wait until america (or at least california) realizes that we pay taxes so a majority of that money goes into schools who teach students to be little communist worker bees, and police officers who are paid by MY TAX MONEY so they can pull me over and without clearly explaining the reason for the ticket, or in this guys case, the money he would have made selling the wood carving (if he sells them) goes to help pay for that officer to EXECUTE him in public w/o fair warning or provocation.

    this was cold blooded MURDER! and not only on the part of the shooter, but on every other officer there blocking any form of aid for this mans recovery. THEY ARE ALL MURDERERS! AND THIEVES!

  45. Hi, I hope someone in Seattle sees this comment and acts on it.

    A tech geek friend recently was talking about a pocket-sized video projector that plugs into his iPod that cost him like 200 bucks.

    If someone has the money or people can donate, someone should buy one, stick it on top of a bicycle helmet, and get two other people to carry a bed sheet on poles in front of them so you can project this video big enough for the people in the cars driving by to see.

    So they can see what happened instead of just seeing people with signs who’re slowing them down on their way to Applebee’s.

  46. This officer NEEDS to be held accountable for MURDER or manslaughter at the very least! If this had been a civilian shooting, they would have crucified the son of a bitch.

    I hope that poor guy died instantly at least “the only justice he’s getting out of this”

  47. Stupid fucking trigger happy pig. Isnt this the exact reason they have tazers and pepper spray? Fuck that pig, put him in prison just like any other person would be in this situation. At the LEAST he should be charged with manslaughter.

  48. It is clear to me from reading comments on this story that too many of my countrymen are fucking insane cowards. A man strolled innocently down the street. A cop jumped out to bully him, and within 4 seconds, the man with the closed knife was dead. This cop is a giant fucking P U S S Y. I am so tired of these cops nationwide claiming they feel threatened when they’re the only ones with the fucking gun! I couldve done better, ya douchebag cop! I coulda put the guy in a choke hold, if nothing else. It really makes me sick that anyone would think there was anything right about the 4 second death of a Native American. You’re fucking sick, Seattle cop Ian the prick pussy pants. May you rot in hell.

  49. To Mr puzzling at the top….he was def in one ear shot in the side not facing the cop the cops dash board cam clearly sees the so called suspect never look in the direction of the officer that had pulled up and stopped at a red light when he saw the the so called suspect ( victim cross the road with a legal knife not threatening a sole. So I don’t think you watched the film at all rather just now jumped in to sound important. Then you have the nerve to ask other officers not to second guess and go ahead and do what this officer did? then I saw this to you if you ever harm a member of my family like this cop did to this man I will hunt you down and do to what you did to them in front of yours. Now that don’t sound good to say as I know its terrible to say but you are the type of cop that is giving the good cops I know a bad name and you are also the type of swine that does not deserve to wear a badge as you have an oath to protect and serve to defend the constitution! How dare you defend that cop shame on you sir shame on you!

  50. It is stupid shit like this that just irritates me. It makes me loose just that much more faith in law enforcement. The police officers now today are a product of their environment. The thugs get more vicious so something has to change. The change justs creates more protocol and procedure to adapt and adjust to the new way of things. And in that process something becomes lost. So small and minute, but lost regardless. Not noticible till 5, 10, or 15 years later when you think back and compare to what was once then, to what is now. We have been so hyped up on terrorism, and just not thinking, but just to react and handle the situation. I don’t think there is a real honest cop whom at some point hasn’t read these posts and realize that he can’t answer truthfully and say “it doesn’t happen, every incident is justified”. But we already know that it does, has, and will happen again. And with the expansion of technology, with cameras in cell phones, cameras getting smaller and cheaper, and more prolific, a different perspective is gradually being more revealed. If anyone has read over the report, and examined the course modules provided in the training, there is one not listed. An important one- COMMON SENSE 101.

    I don’t believe this officer had any malice toward the individual, but I do believe the officer screwed up. And I have to imagine the officer knows it as well. Another side not really revealed, is the side of stress that officers go through. There is a large portion of officers who can not handle it, some get help, and others end up making their wives into widows. Daddy has gone off for an eternal rest.

  51. That person who was curving is deaf!! He did not see the officer comes out and he was walking innocently!! Police always think large group of citizens are NOTHING!! Citizens, it is time for all of you to stand up and win the war!! I can’t do alone..

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