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Wood carver's killing subject of federal review

Photo by 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.

"We have nothing to hide" – those were the words of Seattle's chief of police yesterday.  The department is under fire. 

The questions stem from a federal review of the fatal shooting of a first nation's wood carver last August, as well as what many people perceive as a prior pattern of  abusive violence against minority groups.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been looking into whether to file criminal charges  because of the August shooting of John T. Williams.  He was the homeless member of a native American tribe, who was well known in his community, both as an accomplished woodcarver and as an inebriate. John T Williams was often seen on streets in Seattle's capitol hill neighborhood or near the waterfront and pioneer square. 

The investigation will examine whether former Officer Ian Birk violated Williams' civil rights when he shot and killed him at an intersection near the Washington State Convention Center. Williams was holding a carving knife and a piece of wood when he was shot. He failed to respond to the officer's commands to put down the knife.

Ian Birk had been an officer for 2 years at the time of the shooting.  He resigned in February.  State prosecutors said they do not have enough evidence to charge him with Williams's death.  Birk's attorney tells the Seattle Times, "They're going to find nothing, because they are looking for something that doesn't exist."



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