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Inquest begins into shooting of Seattle woodcarver

KPLU/Bellamy Pailthorp
Tribal members gather at the Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square last September to call for accountability in the police shooting death of native carver John T. Williams.

King County's inquest into the death of native woodcarver John T. Williams at the hands of a Seattle policeman is expected to last all week. The fact-finding work will review last August's shooting, and will determine whether prosecutors bring any charges against Officer Ian Birk.

KPLU's Paula Wissel reports the jurors will not be asked if Birk's actions were warranted. Rather they'll be facing a series of questions about known facts of the confrontation, such as "Was John T. Williams facing the officer when the police officer fired his weapon?" 

Williams death sparked protests. Birk confronted Williams in a midday stop along busy Boren Avenue, when the officer saw him crossing the street holding a carving knife and piece of wood. He ordered Williams to drop the knife. Birk says he fired his weapon after his commands weren't followed. 

Police car video recorded the sound of five shots. Williams died at the scene. His knife was found closed, though a later police photo pictured the knife in an open position. Williams' family says he was deaf in one ear. They say the shooting was not justified.