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Seattle will pay Charleena Lyles' family $3.5 million to settle wrongful death lawsuit

A photograph of Charleena Lyles is surrounded by a candle and three small stuffed animals.
A photograph of Charleena Lyles is shown at a memorial just after her death in 2017.

The family of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old Black mother of four killed by Seattle police four years ago, has reached a $3.5 million settlement with the city.

Family and attorneys settled the case late on Monday night with the help of Superior Court Judge John Erlick. The case was scheduled to go to trial in February in King County Superior Court.

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference about the settlement, Karen Koehler, one of the attorneys representing the family, said the money represented “a restoration of dignity.”

“Those children need to know that their mother should not have died. She did nothing that should have led to her death. She should have received compassion. She should have received resources. She should have received assistance,” Koehler said.

On June 18, 2017, Lyles called 911 to report a burglary at her apartment near Magnuson Park.

Seattle police officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson shot Lyles while responding to the call. The officers, who are both white, said Lyles had confronted them with a knife. Lyles was Black.

Police killed Lyles, who was pregnant at the time, in front of her children.

Lyles’ estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city in 2017. In 2019, former King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector dismissed the case, but that decision was appealed and eventually reversed.

One of the police officers — Anderson — had received training to carry a Taser but was not carrying the stun gun at the time of the shooting, which is against Seattle police policy: Officers trained to carry Tasers are required to carry them on every shift.

Lyles also had a documented history of mental illness and was a victim of domestic abuse. Just weeks prior to her death, Seattle police officers had responded to a separate call from Lyles, when she had a mental health crisis and waved scissors at the police.

Attorneys for the Lyles estate argue McNew and Anderson knew this history and should have come prepared to deescalate the situation but instead shot Lyles seven times.

Lyles’ family say they still want officers involved in the case to be criminally prosecuted. In 2019, King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered an inquest into the fatal shooting of Lyles to determine whether police followed department policy and training. That inquest is pending.

In a statement about the settlement, Dan Nolte, communications director for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, called Lyles’ death an indisputable tragedy.

“We are glad to have some level of closure for the parties. We stand by the multiple layers of review of this event and are pleased that the officers will be dismissed from the lawsuit,” Nolte said.

The Seattle Police Department, for its part, said it respected the city attorney's office decision to resolve the case.

"We hope that this tragic case continues to serve to drive momentum towards comprehensive, holistic reform of all systems that meet at the intersection of public health and public safety," the department said in a statement.

Lyles’ aunt, Merry Kilpatrick, is planning to adopt the two youngest children. Lyles’ family, including an older son identified only as Q, spoke at Tuesday's news conference and said that although the money will help support the children left behind by Lyles, it could never bring their mother back.

This story was updated to include a statement from the Seattle Police Department.

Lilly Ana Fowler reports on social justice issues for KNKX. She previously worked for the nonprofit news site Crosscut — a partner of KCTS 9, Seattle’s PBS station.
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