Seattle Woman, Pregnant and Mentally Ill, Killed by Police

A black woman who was reportedly pregnant, was shot at least 5 times and killed on Sunday when police were called to her home for an alleged robbery; she had called them herself.

The two police officers involved in the latest fatal shooting of a black person are now on administrative leave while their actions are investigated. They allege that Charleena Lyles, 30, aggressively approached them with a knife and that is why they fired an alleged 5 shots, resulting in her death.

The killing took place at the woman’s apartment with her three children present. Reports indicate that Lyles’ report was flagged because they had received weird statements” from her in the past, and her file was flagged with a “safety caution.” Audio released from the dashboard cam seems to indicate the officers were familiar with her from pervious incidences, which begs the question of why they weren’t better prepared to perform de-escalation tactics and carry-out non-lethal subduction.

According to reporting by the Seattle Times and NBC, neighbors reported that the situation quickly escalated from discussion about the alleged burglary to shots being fired. According to a statement by Lyles’ sister she was “tiny” with “mental health problems.” Seattle’s government website and manual for policing state, in regards to de-escalation tactics, that “officers shall consider whether a subject’s lack of compliance is a deliberate attempt to resist or an inability to comply based on factors including, but not limited to: medical conditions, mental impairment, developmental disability, physical limitation, language barrier, drug interaction, behavioral crisis.”

Seattle also has clear guidelines for non-lethal use-of-force which “are used to interrupt a subject’s threatening behaviors so that officers may take physical control of the subject with less risk of injury to the subject or officer than posed by greater force applications.” Considering her prior interactions with police, the presence of children in the apartment, the fact that she was reportedly only wielding a knife, and that she was described as “tiny,” it is unclear why at least 5 gunshots were deemed necessary to subdue her.

Her sister stated: “Why couldn’t they have Tased her? They could have taken her down. I could have taken her down.”

Initial reports alleged that the officers were not carrying Tasers, though it appears that this is required of Seattle officers. Security footage that was released shows the, at least one of which is a white man, in the hallway prior to the shooting. The Seattle Times quotes from the video: “One officer says, ‘tase her,’ and the other responds, ‘I don’t have a Taser.’” Whether or not they were non-compliant with their department’s regulations for carrying non-lethal tools, shooting too kill seems entirely unnecessary.

According to a report by ABC in 2016, officers are too often not trained to merely shoot to wound. “Officers are trained to shoot with the understanding that one shot may not stop an aggressive subject…Police officers are trained to shoot at center mass, in the torso area,” apparently with the aim of shutting down the body through blood loss or disabling the central nervous system. In certain situations, it seems obvious that this type of raining would be necessary; but, with a knife-wielding, petit mother surrounded by her children with a known history of unusual behavior it is, frankly, flabbergasting that lethal force was deemed at all necessary in this situation. One social media commenter reacted with the following: “Is that not an old Western movie trope!!?? Shoot the hand not the f—-ing pregnant woman!!”

Lyles’s sister has stated that she believed her sister’s race was a factor in the officers’ decision to shoot to kill.

The apartment complex where the shooting occurred is run by a non-profit organization working to fight poverty in the Seattle area with the complex home to previously homeless people and families.

Seattle’s Mayor, Ed Murray, has stated that there will be a full investigation into the shooting.

In 2015, The Guardian reported that utilizing Tasers and other less-forceful strategies “reduce the odds of a suspect’s injury by 60%” and that the risk of death when a Taser is involved was “less than 0.25%” with most of those deaths being caused by other factors separate from or in combination with the use of the Taser.

This story highlights the continued debate and dialogue about the relationship between police departments and the communities they serve, particularly communities and citizens of color. It seems that very little time occurs between headlines about a black person being shot and killed by a police officer, or a police officer being acquitted or not charged for such an incident. The fact that the officers in this situation knew of the victim prior to attending to her request for help indicates that more work needs to be done in regards to training officers not only in de-escalation but in community building and humanizing the citizens they serve.

According to a story from the Huffington Post in 2015, a new Police Chief took over Columbia Heights precinct in Minnesota in 2008and shifted the department to a “community-focused approach,” stating that “You Can’t arrest your way out of community problems.” Within four years, “the department won an international award for community policing after crime hit a 25-year low.”

The story of Charleena Lyles is still developing, with investigations now under way and the nation watching. It is unclear how the story will play out and if the increased attention into these events will push police departments and the government further on both improving policing practice and punishing officers who do not uphold their duty to protect and serve. It should be noted that all reports here are early and should be taken with an open mind that the story could change as new information unfolds; that being said, early indicators point to unnecessary actions by the officers that resulted in the death of a pregnant mother of three with mental health issues.

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