The Seattle Times
A King County judge has dismissed negligence claims in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought against two Seattle police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles in 2017.
The Jan. 4 ruling by Superior Court Judge Julie Spector clears the way for the city of Seattle, also a defendant in the case, to move for dismissal. The city indemnifies the officers for actions within the scope of their duties.
Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old mother of four children, was shot in her Northeast Seattle apartment on June 18, 2017, after she reported a burglary and, according to the officers, suddenly attacked them with one or two knives.
Her death sparked protests, including allegations the shooting was racially motivated because Lyles was African American and both officers are white.
Attorneys for Officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew argued that the claims should be dismissed because, under Washington law, it is a “complete defense” in any action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death if the person injured or killed was engaged in the commission of a felony at the time, and that the felony was a proximate cause of the injury or death.
“Ms. Lyles’ death is a direct result of her commission of felonies and failure to follow the clear verbal commands of Officers Anderson and McNew to ‘get back, ’ ” the attorneys wrote in court papers.
Attorneys for the Lyles estate and her children responded in a court filing that it was clear Lyles was suffering from a “significant mental illness condition at the time of the incident such that she lacked the mental capacity” to commit a felony.
In the lawsuit, the attorneys alleged that the officers, in approaching Lyles, failed to take into account her mental history and a prior incident only days earlier.
Anderson, the first officer called to the scene, asked for a second officer after discovering there was an officer-safety caution on Lyles stemming from a June 5 domestic-disturbance incident. In that case, Lyles threatened the officers with a pair of long scissors before dropping them.
The officers’ attorneys, in their summary judgment motion, wrote, “Though Ms. Lyles had a history of contacts with SPD, most of those calls were reports of domestic disputes and violence. Neither Officer Anderson nor Officer McNew had ever responded to a call involving Ms. Lyles prior to the subject incident.”
At the outset, the officers treated Lyles with “respect and as a victim of a reported crime,” the attorneys wrote.
Judge Spector, in granting the officers’ motion to dismiss them from the lawsuit, cited records and filings submitted to her but did not issue a detailed legal analysis.
Karen Koehler, an attorney for the Lyles estate and her children, said in a statement, “We are confident the court’s ruling is wrong and are in the process of filing an appeal. Sometimes cases spend a lot of time going through the court system and this is unfortunately one of them.”
Robert Christie and Megan Coluccio, who represented the officers on behalf of the city, said in a statement, “While this case stems from a tragedy, we are pleased that the Court reached the correct conclusion and recognized that our clients’ use of force was reasonable and appropriate under the challenging and rapidly evolving circumstances they faced.”
A Seattle police review board found the shooting to be within department training and policy.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.
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