11/27/2014

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Seattle to pay $1.5 million to slain woodcarver's family

Seattle to pay $1.5 million to slain woodcarver's family
SEATTLE - The city of Seattle has reached a $1.5 million settlement of claims brought by the family of slain woodcarver John T. Williams, who was shot dead by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk last August.

The settlement was reached after a mediation involving representatives of the John T. Williams estate, Williams' mother and the city.

The Williams family, which earlier failed in its attempts to get criminal charges filed against Birk, expressed relief that the matter could be resolved early without extended and costly litigation.

"This is one step towards justice, but it is only a step. Nothing can make up for the loss of my brother," said Rick Williams, who is the administrator of the John T. Williams estate.

Under the agreement, $250,000 will go into a trust fund for Williams' mother, Ida Edward. The remaining $1.25 million will be placed into escrow while distribution issues are resolved and approved by the court.

In addition, $100,000 of the money will be held in reserve until March 2014 to defend against or satisfy any claims by potential heirs, although none has been located or come forward. A special representative will be appointed to represent any other potential heirs.

"The city has decided and we certainly believe that this was completely wrong. And there's no reason for us to go to court and argue when we agree on that," said Tim Ford, the attorney representing Williams' mother and the Williams estate.

Williams, a homeless seventh-generation woodcarver and a First Nations tribal member, was shot and killed by Birk on Aug. 30, 2010.

Birk told investigators he fired shots after Williams refused commands to put down a knife. But it was later revealed that Williams was partially deaf and may not have heard Birk's commands.

In addition, it was found that Williams' knife was closed when investigators arrived at the scene of the shooting.

The shooting created outrage in the Native American community - especially after Birk's own dashcam showed just seven seconds passed between his command for williams to drop his carving knife - and Birk opening fire.

The Seattle Police Department's Firearms Review Board ruled the shooting of Williams unjustified on Feb. 16, and Birk resigned from the force the same day.

On March 14, the police department's Office of Professional Accountability recommended to Chief John Diaz that allegations of misconduct against Birk be sustained, and on April 14, Chief Diaz fired Birk from the force.

But prosecutors declined to charge Birk with a crime - saying there was no proof he acted with malice.

The mediation between the Williams family and the city of Seattle followed a number of meetings aimed at building trust between the police force and the Native American community.
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