EDITORIAL | Many things wrong with officers’ response that left mother dead

Before even reaching Charleena Lyles’ front door, the Seattle Police Department had already determined that officer safety was a high priority. Her mental health issues? Not so much.

A few short minutes after making contact, three children were left without a mother, never to see their unborn sibling.

Lyles’ shooting death by Seattle Police officers will be under great public and legal scrutiny for months to come, but no legal determination is likely quiet the community outrage at yet another person of color being shot down in this supposedly progressive city.

Lyles had called police to her Sand Point apartment to investigate a burglary. Because she’d been arrested two weeks prior for allegedly threatening officers during a domestic violence response, she was assigned an officer safety caution.

The two officers that responded said as much when discussing Lyles before making contact with her.

One officer, quite unprofessionally, described the June 5 interaction between the SPD and Lyles as her “talking all crazy…” Crazy is not an acceptable psychological term for anyone suffering from any mental health disorder, but the word seems to have established the predetermined impression these officers used when dealing with this 30-year-old pregnant woman.

When the circumstances were first reported, it appeared that Lyles had been speaking with officers about someone breaking into her apartment and stealing an Xbox. From the spotty, redacted audio clip SPD provided, one minute Lyles and the officers are talking about the burglary, and the next they’re telling her to “get back, get back,” and then the unmistakable sounds of gunfire.

The SPD has regularly been putting out self-congratulatory news releases about the great strides it’s made in improving its consent decree with the Department of Justice, addressing its use of force. This has been going on since 2012, after the DOJ found a pattern of excessive force being used by the department, and disproportionately in cases involving people of color.

Part of police reform revolving around satisfying this consent decree is improving de-escalation training and practice.

We wondered, even if Lyles had produced knives during her interaction with these two officers, why they didn’t choose a taser over their firearms. In a recently released transcript, one officer tells the other to tase Lyles.

“I don’t have a taser,” the other cop said.

We can think of no acceptable reason why a Seattle Police officer would not have a less lethal device at their disposal for incidents like this. We also were disheartened to hear that the officers were not wearing body-worn cameras, even though Mayor Ed Murray and City Council president Bruce Harrell patted themselves on the back for supposedly implementing these back in January.

We would also like to quickly address the mayor’s initial statement regarding this shooting, because we felt it was just another in a long line of examples of how tone deaf Murray can be when balancing tragedy with government accountability. That would be the first line: “Today’s incident is a tragedy for all involved. My thoughts are with the many people impacted, including three children and the responding officers.”

While we hope the police officers that shot Lyle to death were impacted by their decision, and wouldn’t propose that they did so without some level of emotional trauma, it was in poor taste to lump concern for them right after those of the three children that lost their mother. To pair the two seems to make the officers victims, when there simply is no evidence being made publicly at this point to make such a conclusion.

Sadly, we may never get a clear picture of what happened inside Lyles’ apartment on June 18. Even sadder is that, whatever errors these officers made in their response, there is pretty much nothing that can be done.

An officer in Washington state can pretty much shoot anyone, as long as they feel their life was in danger. One has to prove malice, which advocates pushing for reform of this law rightly argue is an impossible task.

We, just like so many in Seattle and across the nation, will await the results of the investigation. Whatever comes out of it, however, likely won’t look like justice.