The killing of Charleena Lyles raises many disturbing questions and is a critical moment for Seattle’s police accountability system
The following statement is from ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor.
“The ACLU of Washington is dismayed and heartsick at the killing of Charleena Lyles, a mother of four and longtime Seattle resident, after she called to ask the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to protect her family and home in Magnuson Park from an attempted robbery.
Shortly after two SPD officers arrived, they shot and killed Ms. Lyles, a 30-year-old African-American woman, who was pregnant. Our heart goes out to her family, friends, and neighbors in Sand Point.
Her death is part of a very disturbing pattern across the country of police killing Black and Brown people in situations where the police are quick to shoot instead of using de-escalation efforts to alleviate the need for use of their deadly weapons. Ms. Lyles’s death is also part of a statewide pattern of police killing people with mental health conditions when the police were called in for help to prevent harm. When a community member loses their life as the result of police being called for help, the community’s trust suffers a devastating blow.
The SPD officers involved knew in advance that Ms. Lyles had recently experienced mental health crises and domestic violence. This knowledge should have prompted the officers to access crisis intervention resources and to bring an array of less-than-lethal weapons. Instead, without any apparent attempts to deescalate the situation, SPD officers fatally shot Ms. Lyles in front of her children.
Seattle police actions that resulted in her death raise many disturbing questions. Her killing is a critical moment for Seattle’s new police accountability system to prove it is a fair and effective mechanism to thoroughly investigate police violence and to take action to prevent deaths in the future.
The City of Seattle must ensure that the following actions are promptly taken.
De-escalation and Use of Deadly Force
The City must fully re-examine SPD’s de-escalation training and use of deadly force policies and training. Beyond that, and most importantly, there must be a continuing effort to improve the culture of the Department so that needless killings do not occur.
Police came to the residence of Charleena Lyles because she had requested their help. Officers should have taken action to de-escalate the situation, and create space to reduce the risk of violence, not move quickly to killing another human being. The actions of officers in this situation indicate that the de-escalation training Seattle police officers receive is inadequate. Further, use of deadly force in the situation of Charleena Lyles is totally out of line with good policing practices. Deadly force should be used only as an absolute last resort.
Role of Race
Scientific studies have shown that we all suffer from implicit bias. The SPD, whose mission is public safety, must do much more to guard against and mitigate the implicit bias of its officers, where it can have deadly results. This difficult and very important culture change must be made a priority.
The Department of Justice’s 2012 investigation of the Seattle Police Department found that SPD officers use excessive force more often against people of color and people who are in the midst of a mental health crisis. These findings prompted the Department of Justice to file a lawsuit against the City and led to a consent decree that governs the use of force and requires implicit bias training meant to save lives from police violence.
Response to people with mental health issues
Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) is designed to guide police officers in situations where people are experiencing a mental health or similar crisis. Clearly the CIT training was not effective in this case. The SPD must find ways to ensure the training is sufficient and that it sticks.
Both state law and the federal consent decree require the SPD to provide police officers with Crisis Intervention Training in order to put greater emphasis on de-escalation, creating opportunities for alternatives to violence. The police officers who came to Charleena Lyles’s home were aware that she had previously experienced mental health crises. Yet, she was shot by two officers and killed.
Society entrusts police with great powers, including the use of force and sometimes deadly force. When an individual is shot and killed by public safety officers, government law enforcement and its agents must be held accountable. There must be a just response for the family of Charleena Lyles, and for the people of Seattle, to whom the Mayor, Police Chief, and Police Department answer.”
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