Seattle police released an audio recording and transcript on Monday of the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old mother of four who had summoned police to her apartment on Sunday to report a burglary.
In the minutes before greeting Lyles at her apartment, two officers can be heard discussing a recent police encounter with Lyles just two weeks earlier that resulted in her arrest.
Soon after they arrive at her door and ask for details about the burglary, the officers can be heard suddenly shouting “get back” and saying she has two knives.
Lyles’ family has decried the shooting and questioned why the officers had not used non-lethal force to disarm her. They said they believed Lyles’ race – she was African-American – was a factor in the shooting. Lyles’ family also said that she was pregnant.
“She was asking them for help with her domestic violence and they wasn’t giving her none. That’s why the mental breakdown started coming into play,” Lyles’ sister Monika Williams said at a gathering on Sunday.
“The officers need to pay for what they did,” she continued. “Even if my sister had a knife in her hand, she weighs like nothing, even if she’s soaking wet. There’s no way you could’ve taken a taser and taken her down? There’s no way you could’ve taken a baton and knocked the knife out of her hand?”
Here’s what we know about Lyles’ death:
- YouTube/SPD Blotter
The seconds leading up to and including the shooting show the situation quickly escalated from a conversation between Lyles and the two officers to a confrontation. Here’s an excerpt of the transcript:
Officer 1: Yeah. So you said a Xbox was taken?Lyles: Yes.Officer 1: And then what was the (unintelligible)?Lyles: (Inaudible)Officer 2: Get back, get back, get back.Officer 1: Fast back-up.Officer 2: Get back.Lyles: Get ready, motherfuckers.Officer 2: We need help. (Unintelligible) a woman with two knives.Officer 1: Hey, get back. Get back.Officer 2: Get back. Tase her.Officer 1: I don’t have a taser. Get back, get back.Officer 2: Get back.Officer 1: Get back.
The two officers have not yet been named, but the police department said one has been with the force for 11 years, and the other is “newer.” The Seattle Times has reported that both officers are white.
The Seattle Police Department’s Force Investigation team and Office of Professional Accountability are reviewing the shooting. The officers are both on administrative leave pending an investigation.
Listen to the full audio below
The first police encounter
Two officers arrived at Lyles’ apartment on June 5 – two weeks before the shooting – after receiving a report of a physical domestic disturbance, but they quickly requested assistance after she “armed herself with with a pair of extra long metal shears and was threatening the officers,” a police report said.
By the time a third officer arrived at the scene, his two colleagues were within 8 to 10 feet of Lyles and had drawn their guns and were telling her to put the scissors on the floor.
According to the police report, Lyles had told the first two officers, “Ain’t none of y’all leaving here today.” The officers later said they had feared for their safety and perceived Lyles’ comment to be “threatening in nature.”
As two other officers responded to the scene, Lyles made what the police report described as “unusual comments” about wanting to “morph into a wolf” and clone her daughter. She also reportedly accused the officers of being devils and members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Lyles eventually dropped the scissors to the floor and moved away from them, and police put her in double-locked handcuffs and called several of her family members to the scene.
“After talking with Lyles’ family, we learned that Lyles has experienced a recent sudden and rapid decline in her mental health,” the report said.
“When we explained to her family the behavior and statements Lyles made to us, they were surprised and informed us she has not had any behavior similar to this in the past. Lyles’ family is concerned for her and they have a strong desire to stabilize her mental health condition before it gets worse.”
The police report says Lyles was then brought to the precinct and placed in a holding cell, after officers determined she had “caused alarm” to the officers and “repeatedly used words and actions to create a substantial risk of assault.”
She was charged with harassment and obstructing a public officer, and was released less than one week later after appearing in a mental health court, according to The Seattle Times.
Lyles was reportedly ordered to check in with a court program twice a week and submit to random drug and alcohol testing. She was also ordered not to possess weapons.
Seattle police reforms and de-escalation efforts
Lyles’ death comes despite recent reforms made to policing in Seattle.
In 2012, the city entered a consent decree with the Department of Justice to overhaul the department under the oversight of a court-appointed monitor.
The reforms came in the wake of the 2010 fatal police shooting of John T. Williams, a homeless Native American woodcarver.
Under the agreement, the police department had to reform its training, procedures, and record-keeping practices to minimize use-of-force incidents and biased policing, according to the Associated Press.
The monitor, the city, and the Justice Department have all called the reforms an unequivocal success. During a 28-month period between 2014 and 2016, incidents involving serious use of force – meaning ones that could be expected to cause injury – dropped by more than 60% from the same period between 2009 and 2011.
The reforms also dramatically improved police-community relations. Polling showed that police approval ratings rose to 72% in 2016 from 60% in 2013, largely attributable to Seattle’s black residents, whose approval leapt to 62% from 49%.
Seattle’s policing reforms have been held up as a national example of the importance of consent decrees and federal oversight, particularly as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has questioned their effectiveness and vowed to re-examine the decrees currently in place.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said Monday that both officers involved in the Lyles shooting had undergone Crisis Intervention Training, and one had received additional de-escalation and mental-health intervention training.
“The message I’m trying to get out right now is that this is a horrible tragedy all around,” O’Toole said, according to The Seattle Times. “The community is distraught. The family is distraught. The officers are distraught.”