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Jan. 16, 2022

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Seattle to pay $3.5M to settle police wrongful-death suit in Charleena Lyles case

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SEATTLE — The city of Seattle will pay $3.5 million to settle a wrongful-death civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the children of a pregnant Black woman who was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers in 2017.

Karen Koehler, a Seattle attorney who represented Charleena Lyles’ estate, said at a news conference Tuesday that the case was scheduled for trial in King County Superior Court in February before the settlement was reached Monday, The Seattle Times reported.

“For the family and especially for the children, it’s a restoration of dignity,” Koehler said of the settlement reached after a 13 1/2-hour mediation session.

Lyles’ four children, who are between the ages of 5 and 16, are being raised in California by Lyles’ aunt, Merry Kilpatrick, Koehler said.

Koehler said the settlement says to them that their mother “did nothing that should’ve led to her death … she should not have received seven bullets.”

Dan Nolte, a spokesman for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, called Lyles’ shooting death an indisputable tragedy and said he’s glad the settlement agreement has brought some closure to the parties.

The Seattle Police Department, in a statement posted online, said it hopes that “this tragic case continues to serve to drive momentum towards comprehensive, holistic reform of all systems that meet at the intersection of public health and public safety.”

Seattle police officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew responded to Lyles’ apartment in Northeast Seattle on June 18, 2017, after Lyles called 911 to report a burglary.

Police said evidence at the scene pointed to the 30-year-old staging a burglary, and according to the officers, Lyles suddenly lunged at them with one or two knives before they fatally shot her in her kitchen with her children nearby.

Lyles’ death sparked protests and outrage, including allegations the shooting fit a pattern of institutionalized racial bias by police.

In the 18 months before she died, Lyles — a victim of domestic violence with documented mental-health issues — called Seattle police 23 times, and police said she had threatened officers with a pair of shears during a June 5, 2017, disturbance call before dropping them.

In its lawsuit, Lyles’ estate had argued that officers did not act reasonably because they failed to use nonlethal force to disarm or subdue her.

Anderson, who was certified to use a Taser and under Seattle police policy was required to carry it, was suspended for two days for failing to carry it on the day Lyles was killed.

Seattle police determined that their officers acted reasonably in shooting Lyles and that a Taser application would have been unlikely to subdue her.

In early 2019, a Superior Court judge dismissed the wrongful-death lawsuit, agreeing with Anderson and McNew that under Washington state law, it is a “complete defense” in any action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death if the person injured or killed was committing a felony at the time, and that the felony was a proximate cause of the injury or death.

But a state Court of Appeals three-judge panel overruled the trial judge in February 2021 after attorneys representing Lyles’ estate submitted opinions from three experts.

The first expert said the officers’ use of firearms was unreasonable and contrary to the Seattle Police Department’s de-escalation policies; the second said Lyles’ death could have been prevented had Anderson been carrying his Taser; and the third said Lyles was in a psychotic state and was therefore unable to form the intent to assault the officers.

The Lyles’ family said they will next turn their attention to an inquest into Lyles’ death. In July, King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an order allowing inquests, which are required for any death involving law enforcement, to resume after a three-year legal fight over changes meant to make the process fairer to families of those killed by police.

During Tuesday’s news conference, Katrina Johnson, who like other family members appeared by Zoom, said the family is forever traumatized by her cousin’s death but thanked the community for continuing “to lift up Charleena’s name” in social-justice protests for police reform.

Johnson and other family members said they would like to see the officers criminally prosecuted for the fatal shooting.

But Lyles’ death happened before lawmakers and voters passed Initiative 940 in 2018, which removed a longtime standard that required prosecutors to prove that officers acted with malice and a lack of good faith. That standard made made it almost impossible to prove negligence in fatal shootings by police officers.

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