Seattle Police Department on Monday released an audio file in connection with the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of three who called police to report a burglary at her home on Sunday.
The audio file, from a police car dashcam, captured the interactions between the two officers involved and Lyles during the last moments of her life. You can hear a child’s voice in the background, and muffled interactions between the cops and Lyles as she appears to run through what she alleges was stolen, including an X-Box game player.
The interaction escalates quickly — officers said later that Lyles had a knife. Sounds of a physical scuffle ensue, officers repeatedly say “Hey! get back.” A child cries loudly in the background. Lyles appears to swear at the officers, and a barrage of gunfire follows.
Lyles’ relatives told news outlets that she had battled mental health issues for the last year. They also questioned why the officers had resorted to deadly force rather than try to subdue her via other means — she was “tiny,” they told the Seattle Times.
“Why couldn’t they have Tased her,” Lyles’ sister Monika Williams told the Times. “They could have taken her down. I could have taken her down.” Lyles had three children, two boys and a girl, aged 11, 4, and 1. Lyles’ relatives also told outlets they believed that her race had been a factor in the officer’s decision to shoot. Lyles was black and both officers were white.
Seattle Police Detective Mark Jamieson said at a news conference Sunday that Lyles’ children had been present at the time of their mother’s shooting but were unharmed.
Jamieson also ran through the events that led to her death. “At some point, the 30-year-old female was armed with a knife,” Jamieson said. “Both officers fired their service weapons, striking the individual.”
Seattle Police said in a statement that normally one officer would have been dispatched in the event of a reported burglary, but due to a “recent officer safety caution” associated with Lyles’ residence, the department sent two.
Seattle Police Department, explaining why they released the audio files, said, “While recognizing that the release of information can be (sic) source of tension during active, ongoing investigations, SPD also believes transparency throughout the investigation of deadly force incidents is essential to maintaining public trust.”
Public trust in Seattle police is not something that the city can necessarily take for granted. Seattle Police Department has been under federal oversight since 2012, after investigators from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division concluded that its officers routinely defaulted to excessive force and engaged in a pattern and practice of racially biased policing. SPD and the DOJ entered into a consent decree, binding the police department to implement reforms.
This April, the federal monitor charged with overseeing the implementation of those reforms issued a report praising the Department’s progress, saying that a clear drop in use-of-force incidents signaled a “singular and foundational milestone on SPD’s road to full and effective compliance — and represents Seattle crystallizing into a model of policing for the 21st century.”
Lyles’ death resonates with police reform and racial justice advocates beyond Seattle. The shooting comes just two days after the officer who killed Philando Castile, a black man, in St. Paul, Minnesota (and whose final moments were broadcast to the world on Facebook live), was acquitted of manslaughter, sparking protests in cities across the country.