Woman fatally shot by police plagued by mental health issues

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Officers with the Seattle Police Department were called Sunday morning for the fourth time in a year to the apartment of a woman claiming there had been a robbery in her unit. The three previous calls had been for reports of domestic violence.

According to an audio recording of the officers, Charleena Lyles, 30, invited them into her apartment in Brettler Family Place and told them that an Xbox video game console had been stolen and a bag of clothes on her bed appeared to have been disturbed.

One of the responding officers repeated out loud what Lyles had said, and then the incident suddenly escalated after both officers present said they saw Lyles holding a knife.

“Get back, get back, get back!” an officer yelled.

“Get ready,” Lyles replied, using an expletive.

“Tase her,” the other officer said to his partner, but neither officer had a Taser.

The New York Times reported that “Seconds later, the officers fired at least five shots, killing Ms. Lyles, as three of her four children were in the apartment. The family said she was pregnant.”

Lyles’ family, who said she struggled with mental illness following years of abusive relationships and threats of her children being taken from her, is outraged by the shooting.

The case is also similar to those in the past during which Seattle officers have employed deadly force in encounters with people with mental health issues. Those incidents triggered a Justice Department investigation which resulted in the Police Department being placed under a federal consent decree in 2012.

“I don’t know if my sister had a knife or not, and even if she did, she was so tiny,” her sister, Monika Williams, said in a Monday night phone interview. “There was no reason two trained police officers had to shoot her down.”

The two officers, whose names have not been released, were placed on administrative leave by the Police Department which is standard procedure in cases of fatal shootings. According to the police, both officers were equipped on Sunday with “less-lethal force options” required by Seattle police policy. However, neither of them had Tasers.

Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole called the shooting a “horrible tragedy.”

“The community is distraught,” O’Toole said on Monday. “The family is distraught. The officers are distraught.”


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