Thursday, February 17, 2011

A badge is a now a license to kill in Washington State

In a stunning followup to a story we recently commented on, King County, Washington Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has announced that there's just not a single crime he can think of with which to charge Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk, despite Birk's own department concluding that the cop's execution (after reviewing the available evidence we are convinced that is the correct description) of local resident John T. Williams for walking down the street while innocently whittling a piece of wood with a legal-length knife was "not justified".

Satterberg cites a 25-year-old state law that he says gives cops a huge amount of discretion (to say the least):

"The King County Prosecutor specifically cites RCW 9A.16.040, which gives police officers more leeway in incidents of deadly force. Section 3, of the law, says 'A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section.'"

So a Washington cop can pretty much gun down anyone they wish as long as the officer doesn't pull the trigger out of hate and afterwards somehow comes up with the flimsiest of excuses?  And how can any rational person, much less a trained law-enforcement officer such as Birk, believe that a "justifiable" response to seeing a person ambling down the sidewalk while engaged in a little woodcarving and who doesn't immediately respond within 5 seconds to a barked command to drop the knife (Williams was deaf in one ear and happened to be listening to a personal music player at the time of the incident) is to shoot them multiple times in the side (which pretty much proves that Williams couldn't possibly have been threatening the officer, as he claimed)? 

No sale, Mr. Satterberg.  There isn't a shred of "good faith belief" to be had anywhere here.  This is a clear case of negligent homicide and should be prosecuted as such.

"State Senator Adam Kline, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, personally had problems with Birk’s actions, but not the law."

Unbelievable.  What a way to whitewash an obvious criminal overreaction by someone who should have clearly known better.

"'The law gives the person some protection for errors in judgment as long as they are made without malice,' said Kline.

He believes the law should remain unchanged.

'We don’t want that police officer to be so intimidated that every time he draws his weapon or her weapon even in self defense, or defense of civilians, that there is going to be a lawsuit or he or she is going to be fired,' said Kline."

Well, you presumably don't want your cops killing law-abiding citizens for engaging in innocent and LEGAL behavior either, so it appears you've got quite the conundrum on your hands, Mr. Kline.  How do you propose to fix it, sir?

Regardless of any eventual criminal outcome of the incident, "Officer" Birk has now bowed to overwhelming pressure from just about every resident and local government official there not named Satterberg or Kline and resigned in disgrace from the Seattle Police Department effective yesterday.  Judging by the recent employment histories of other former cops who were caught committing serious crimes and who pretty much got away with no punishment due to similar technicalities based on their employment status, Birk's law-enforcement career is seemingly over for good, as any other department's hiring of him would no doubt generate the kind of massive outcry that is going on right this minute in downtown Seattle. 

Good riddance.  Now the good people of Washington need to retire oafs like Satterberg and Kline, men who claim to be "troubled" by Birk's actions but who go right ahead and twist the laws around enough to find a convenient excuse to let a guilty man off the legal hook solely because of what he does for a living.


Bike Bubba said...

More or less, what they've just told real criminals is that they'd better shoot or stab first. Sounds like a really bad precedent to set, and hopefully the legislature fixes it.

Grace R said...

This has caused a lot of uproar here. The SPD has some MAJOR accountability issues, as this is not the first time this type of things has happened recently. The fact that this is a major metropolitan city w/o a civilian oversight committee is just ridiculous.

At the same time, there's more to the story than is really being talked about. Yes there are bad and dirty cops. But most cops aren't. And face it, if someone with a badge and a gun says to drop something - FRICKIN' DROP IT! Don't get me wrong, this guy crossed the line, but having worked with the homeless, I can tell you that they can become argumentative and combative extremely quickly.

This officer made an extremely poor choice. I don't think he was a dirty cop, or even a bad one. I think he was unskilled at working the beat, and it would be unfair to crucify him as some evil vile cop, when he's just human and f'ed up.

As for the legal side of things - WTF!??! It's a dangerous thing when the police have near carte blanche in the city to harass people.

Bike Bubba said...

Grace, keep in mind here that most people are NOT used to dealing with police, and those who legally carry, including the police, need to know that the whole equation changes when a gun is drawn.

Regarding this particular officer, he was a bad cop. Sorry. Guy is walking down a sidewalk with a legal pocketknife, nobody else is around, and he's whittling. Watch the video; it's pretty clear. There was no justification--the man should be in prison for what he did.