By Paradise Afshar and Alaa Elassar, CNN
Seattle police officers were justified in the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four who was shot and killed in her home by police in 2017, an inquest jury concluded Wednesday.
Officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson responded to Lyles’ apartment on June 18, 2017, after Lyles, 30, called 911 to report a burglary. After an initially calm conversation, the officers said the pregnant mother turned violent, and they shot her after she confronted them with two knives, police said.
The King County Coroner’s inquest jurors responded to more than 100 questions about the case and unanimously came to a decision that McNew and Anderson were justified in their actions. Both officers are still employed with the department.
“This is in fact the only time that a jury is going to look at what happened,” Ted Buck, an attorney representing the officers, told CNN. “So the significance, I think, of this outcome is that six people, chosen from the community, listened to the evidence and found that the officers’ actions were justified under the circumstances.”
Buck said that the proceedings have been “a brutal experience for these officers who were publicly attacked as murderers by people who simply didn’t know what had happened.”
The city of Seattle agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Lyles’ family in 2021.
“Five years ago, the Lyles family, the Seattle community, the involved SPD officers, and our entire department were shaken by this unquestionably tragic event,” the Seattle Police Department said in a statement. “The SPD thanks the inquest administrator and his staff and all involved for their efforts to ensure a fair and transparent fact-finding process, and we thank the jury for its thoughtful and careful deliberation.”
Lyles’ family ‘rejects’ the inquest jury’s decisions
Karen Koehler, an attorney representing the Lyles’ family, told CNN that the “findings of the inquest are nothing for the SPD to be proud about.”
“Charleena Lyles’ family rejects the ultimate findings from the inquest jury today,” Koehler said. “The process focused only on the officers’ states of mind. Not on Ms. Lyles.”
“Despite requests for a fuller picture to be presented — including a forensic expert on the topic of her mental health — the scope was strictly narrowed,” Koehler added. “Ms. Lyles’ mental health was deemed irrelevant except for what the officers knew about her — which was not much at all.”
Although the family does not “blame the jury for its decision,” Koehler said, they condemn SPD’s practices and procedures which “are designed specifically to allow an officer to shoot and kill a person in mental crisis with a paring knife.”
“In those circumstances, officers are not trained to disarm,” she continued. “They are not trained to wound. They are trained to shoot to kill. The message is clear: if a person is in a mental health crisis and has any type of sharp-edged instrument, tool or weapon — do not expect them to survive if 911 is called in Seattle.”
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CNN’s Monquie Smith contributed to this report.