Seattle police leave vulnerable woman at mercy of violent man

Seattle police leave vulnerable woman at mercy of violent man »Play Video
Michael Lionnel Edwards
SEATTLE -- In fear for her life, a Seattle woman turned to the police but the police turned her away.

The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers continuing investigation into the Seattle Police Department has uncovered another frightening case. This time we learned Seattle police left a woman recovering from surgery to the mercy of a convicted felon who had threatened to kill her.

We'll call her Cindy. Every day she figures she's lucky to be alive. We're not using her real name because she still fears the man who for two months in 2010 nearly took that life away.

"He was very serious about killing me," she said.

The man is Michael Lionnel Edwards, also known as Charles Edwards. According to court documents, Edwards is a member of the Vice Lords gang and his victims are littered across several states. His criminal history includes robbery with serious bodily harm in Indiana, assault in Minnesota, and aggravated assault in North Dakota.

Those incidents happened before Edwards came to Seattle and moved into Cindy's north-end apartment.

"I was really sick. I looked really emaciated," said Cindy, who was particularly vulnerable since she had been through several months of chemotherapy.

"I only had so much medical leave from work and so he offered to help out with the bills."

Instead, Cindy says Edwards took over her life, even changing her locks, so he could lock her inside. Then, in September of 2010, she was recovering from surgery when Edwards came home drunk. "He had been putting a gun in my face."

When Edwards passed out a girlfriend warned her, "you can't come back here, he is going to kill you. When he comes to he is going to kill you."

So Cindy went to the Seattle Police department's north precinct and said the officer inside told her to call 911 from the lobby.

We obtained audio recordings of the 911 call and police dispatch. You can hear Cindy tell the 911 call taker, "If I go home right now he's gonna kill me. He's gonna have people hunt me down and kill me. Seriously, I'm not even joking."

What happened next stunned both Cindy and even some cops. Seattle police went to her apartment and on the dispatch recording an officer says, "He's inside, we can hear his voice."

They locate Edwards inside the apartment. Again the officers' radio, "he's clearly inside and saying that the police are at the door."

And then - stunningly - a commander orders an about-face: "Precinct, officers inside, withdraw."

And the officers at Cindy's apartment leave, with Edwards still inside.

With the cops gone, Cindy was stuck, unable to return home. "I didn't want to die," she said. "It just wasn't my day to die."

For the next ten days Cindy, still recovering from surgery, was homeless.

"It was terrible. I had gone there, I had talked to them, I had done everything they had asked me to," she said.

Cindy was stuck on the street, living in her car with her dog until Edwards was eventually arrested and convicted.

"They just didn't do anything. I wanted to understand why. I wanted to know why," she said.

The Seattle Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability investigated the incident, and documents obtained by the Problem Solvers show that even fellow officers involved that day were disappointed, telling investigators: "I mean the frustration was that I knew he was there... I didn't feel like the police that day."

Seattle Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said the department takes domestic violence incredibly seriously.

"If we made a mistake, if we didn't follow proper policy and procedure, there's going to be a remedy," he said.

But the Office of Professional Accountability recommended no discipline, only supervisory intervention. Department command staff overruled, saying the commander should have used special units like SWAT to arrest Edwards, rather than leave Cindy homeless.

Ultimately they recommended the lowest level of discipline: a written reprimand for only one officer involved.

Cindy still wonders why. "That makes me very mad," she said of the investigation's outcome.

The Department of Justice has criticized SPD's Office of Professional Accountability for just this kind of outcome, saying it too often uses "supervisory intervention," which does not go into an officer's personnel file.

We are still waiting for the Seattle Police Department's response to the DOJ report.

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The Seattle Police Department issued a response to this story on Wednesday, which you can read on the department's website.