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POLICE: Murder is legal if killer has a badge

Letter by Brant R. DeLarme, Bonney Lake on Feb. 17, 2011 at 12:35 pm with 18 Comments »
February 17, 2011 12:35 pm

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced Wednesday that he would not charge Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk in the fatal shooting of the homeless man John T. Williams (TNT, 2-17).

The law the prosecutor cites states that a police officer cannot be charged for homicide as long as he acted in good faith and without malice.

The police department’s Firearms Review Board said in its report that the shooting was unjustified and that Birk did not follow his training.

By not following his training he was not acting as he knew a police officer should. The only thing that made him a police officer at the moment of the shooting was a badge and a gun.
If he was not acting as a police officer, how could he be acting in good faith when he confronted and killed a man within four seconds?

Satterberg says police officers don’t have the option of walking away. Police officers do have the option to use non-lethal force and to give a drunken man more than four seconds to comply with an order before shooting him repeatedly.

Apparently, in Washington murder is legal so long as the killer has a badge and claims he had good intentions.

Leave a comment Comments → 18
  1. I’m certainly not defending the policeman who shot and killed a man walking down the street with a knife in his hand. And I certainly think the authorities were right in stating that this particular policeman’s actions were lacking in judgment and commonsense.

    But a state law was passed that exempts law enforcement personnel to be charged with a crime if they kill someone in the line of duty and there cannot be proven that that there was any pre-conditions like personal motive or hatred with an intent to harm someone from behind their badge of authority.

    The King County prosecutor would be going against state law to pursue any criminal charges – and there never was any evidence to suggest the policeman had any personal intent or hatred against to victim to make it a crime under this law.

    Like taxes, as a citizen you only have the power of the ballot box to enact laws or take any law off the books through legislative measures. Check the voting record of any State Representative to see how they voted on this law and mount a campaign to get someone else elected in their place.

    Nothing else can be done but wringing ones hands bemoaning the injustice seen by the death of someone that they see as possibly prevented if the officer had reacted differently than firing his weapon..

  2. cclngthr says:

    northsc,
    I agree that police have a duty to use deadly force whenever they think is necessary to do so, as part of the job.

    The exemption is there and the law was created so police won’t be hampered with not being effective quickly. Is that law necessary? I think the law is necessary to have police do their jobs.

    A knife is a deadly weapon, particularly in the hands of someone. Why was Williams carrying the knife in his hand while walking on the sidewalk? It sounds to me he is partly responsible for his death for not having the knife in his pocket.

    I am licensed to carry a firearm. When I carry, it is in the holster, and not in my hands. If it were in my hand, I’m likely about to use it, and that stance is evident to those around me. In the holster, it is not going to shoot anyone.

    Same with the knife. When it is in the hands of someone, there is a chance they may use it on someone.

  3. The militarization of our law enforcement is a major problem for American citizens.It is now us ( citizens ) against them ( law enforcement). I remember when I used to tell my children the police officer is your friend. Today, there is a pervasive and healthy distrust of law enforcement. When law enforcement is allowed to murder American citizens with impunity our entire social structure is in danger. This inequity is what breeds cop killers.
    I wonder if the person murdered by Ian Birk was a rich white male if the outcome would be different?

  4. Murder should only be charged when trying to prove that the person who is accused is thought to have kill on purpose. I never thought this cop should have been charged with murder. Manslaughter, negligent homicide? You bet.

    I used to thinks cops were the greatest, not any more. Not only do they not have to worry about being charged with murder (or manslaughter) but they get away with a lot of things that would cause a civilian to get arrested. All they have to say is that they were in fear for their life/safety or that of another. Most of the time when they make this claim it’s hogwash.

  5. cclngthr says:

    Murigen,
    I think you would come to the same conclusions this cop did if you saw a guy walking down the street with a knife in his hand. Why was Williams carrying a knife in his hand when he was walking down the street? Could he have used it on a person? There is a chance he could. You don’t know what is on the person’s mind if he or she has a knife in their hand.

    A person who is carrying a knife (or gun) in their hand is a potential threat, and should be taken seriously. If they are carrying a knife in their pocket, or gun in a holster, they are not a potential threat.

  6. How protected are the police? Are we to a point where the police must shoot first and ask questions later?

  7. MarksonofDarwin says:

    Williams was carrying a perfectly legal knife. He wasn’t threatening anybody. He was a wood carver, and he also had a piece of wood with him. He was extremely intoxicated and was in the process of walking away from Birk when he was shot…in the back. Birk didn’t follow his training by not identifying himself as an officer, and only giving 4 seconds between his command to put the knife down and shooting. He has already been disciplined by SPD for not following proper procedures.
    Hope that clears it up a bit.

    I agree with Murigen. This was not murder, but negligent homicide or some other charge would be appropriate. The way this law is written, we really have put cops above the law. There really is a general distrust of law enforcement…and this just adds one more incident to the perception that they can do whatever they like without consequence.

  8. alindasue says:

    I used to teach my children, especially my son who is DD and autistic, that when they were lost they should go to someone like a police officer for help. Not any more.

    We encountered a police officer and his dog patrolling a local transit center. My son made the mistake of trying to say “hi” to the officer. The dog was calm and very well behaved; the police officer was not. He immediately started to scream at my son, threatening him and telling him to “back away”. My son, confused, stood there not knowing what to do. When I tried to explain to the officer that his screaming was confusing my son, he began to scream at and threaten me also. I managed to steer my son away from the situation, but I was left wondering what would have happened if my son had gotten separated from me and went to that police officer alone seeking help.

    A week later, John T. Williams was shot. I’ve been following that story. None of the witnesses could figure out why the police officer even got out of his car much less what Mr. Williams had done to be perceived a threat. After the shooting, his knife was found on the ground in the closed position. The coroners report indicated that Mr. Williams was facing away from the officer when shot. Even the police department’s own Firearms Review Board had determined that the shooting was unjustified.

    The police departments spend a good deal of time teaching an officer how to shoot a gun. I submit that perhaps fewer officers – and definitely fewer civilians – would be shot if they would only spend as much time teaching officers how to work with people as they do teaching them how to confront people and use weapons. They especially need to train them in how to work with people who can’t respond “by the book” to an officer’s shouted instructions: the disabled, non-english speakers, lost and disoriented travelers, and so on.

    cclngthr,
    A gun has only one use: to shoot at something. Conversely, a knife in the hand has many uses: slicing an apple, carving a totem (as John T. Williams had been doing), opening a box – just a few examples. Yes, a knife can be used as weapon but having a knife in the hand does not automatically mean it is going to be used as such. A carver carrying a knife across the street would be the same as me crossing that same street with a crochet hook in my hand.

  9. Williams’ mistake was bringing a knife to a gunfight.

  10. Once more – there is a State Law that PROHIBITS a law enforcement officer to be charged with a criminal offense unless there was some personal motivation or intent involved.

    Any other argument is just wringing ones hands and provides a forum for those with a beef with law enforcement.

  11. cclngthr says:

    alindasue,
    Someone carrying a knife in their hand out in the open, regardless of intent can be construed as a threat. Same thing if a person carrying a gun in their hand.

    A person carrying a gun in a holster and not having their hand on it is not a threat. Same goes for a person carrying a knife in their pocket. No construed threat there.

    You don’t know what was going on when your son saw the cop and his dog. They may have been doing something that they did not want you, or your son to be involved with. It is best not to interact with a cop and his/her dog on patrol because the only reason they would be out is to do a job. Additionally, on patrol, an animal may charge at you if the animal perceives you as a threat.

  12. hansgruber says:

    This seems to cover the subject

    RCW 9A.16.030
    Homicide — When excusable.

    Homicide is excusable when committed by accident or misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means, without criminal negligence, or without any unlawful intent.

  13. Personal experience will color one’s perspective. I have contacted law enforcement in times of need on at least five occasions. Instead of receiving any sort of assistance I have been threatened, ignored, chastised, told to move or install cameras, and been generally cast aside and left helpless. I have relatives who are police officers. I have never in my life had a positive experience any person associated with law enforcement. So when I hear stories of officers killing people, screaming at frightened children, and generally being abusive to the public…I’m not surprised. What does surprise is me is when people jump to defend those whose actions in these circumstances suggest they are being not just bad at there jobs, but sad individuals.
    Law may protect the officer in this instance…curious if the deceased has any relatives available to pursue this reckless “copper” in civil court.
    —cclngthr— don’t “approach an officer when he’s on patrol”? Sorry officer, I didn’t mean to bother you when you were on duty…I guess I should just call 911 instead.
    Our experience will determine our view of anyone. If law enforce wants to be viewed as a positive arm of society, then they must prove it to us with their collective actions. Please. Please prove to us you are the knights-in-shining-armor you purport to be.

  14. BlaineCGarver says:

    The weapon was legal to carry, but not brandish. You may not brandish weapons unless you are being threatened.

  15. pazzo242 says:

    It would seem a lot of you want to point at the police for being rude, wrong, etc—-saying you cannot trust the police any longer. But when I read the stories it seems your distrust should be with the prosecutor’s office or the state legislature. The Seattle PD said–the shooting was unjustified but they cannot force the prosecutor to violate state law; no ifs, ands or buts about it. Because SPD came out against the shooting in the early stages and it appears they forced the officer to resign (probably in lieu of being fired). I would think all of you nay-sayers would now trust the police department. SPD took the right action in the capasity they could.

  16. I did not write this letter because I have an issue with the police or a problem with the existence of laws to protect the police. My complaint is that the law as it is written and interpreted is not serving justice. Officer Birk neglected to follow the procedures he was taught in his training and it resulted in the death of an innocent man. If I neglected to follow the procedures I was taught in drivers education, ran a read light, and killed a pedestrian i would be charged with a crime. Police officers should not be imune from responsibility.
    To those of you who suggest that by carrying a knife in his hand Ted Williams forfeited his life, have you never eaten a steak at a restaurant with a pointed knife? That is just as deadly. Is being drunk, homeless, and a hobbyist a death sentence?

  17. pazzo242 says:

    When I am eating a steak, the only thing that is in jeopardy of getting sliced is the steak. I have never confused a uniformed police officer, pointing a gun at me, who seems very angry (whether I could hear him or not) for a well cooked and juicy rib-eye steak—-NEVER! Your analogies suck.

    I have also never walked toward a police officer with a knife in my hand and if it was closed (as some have alleged) then it would have been in my pocket. There are many assumptions in this case and I saw the same videos everyone else has and still have never seen the entire incident.

    Do I think the officer was correct in his action–probably not? I say probably because I was NOT there, unlike you and many of the other bloggers on this post.

  18. After the Review Board ruled that the officers actions was unjustified and the officer didn’t follow his training, I could see why he received his walking papers,if indeed that is what happened.I have watched Cops on TV and what is portrayed is a high degree of tolerance on almost all of the officers.But maybe this is not your every day officer and you are seeing the good cop and not the bad cop!

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