Jun 14, 2022 - News

Officers seek ban on video livestream of Charleena Lyles' inquest

A memorial shrine with flowers, photos, and other items were placed outside the apartment where Charleena Lyles was killed by Seattle police officers in June 2017.
A memorial emerged outside of Charleena Lyles' apartment following her death 5 years ago. Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images

Two police officers who fatally shot Charleena Lyles during a confrontation inside her northeast Seattle apartment five years ago want to prevent their faces from being photographed and videotaped during the upcoming inquest hearings into Lyles' death.

Driving the news: Lawyers for officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew have filed a motion asking King County Inquest administrator Michael Spearman to prohibit a live video stream of the proceedings, and to restrict videos and photography of the officers "within and surrounding the inquest venue."

What they're saying: The officers' lawyers, Karen Cobb and Ted Buck, contend the motion is "based upon legitimate safety threats and concerns for the officers (and by association their families) in this highly controversial and potentially volatile proceeding."

  • The motion notes that when demonstrations reignited over Lyles' case during Seattle's 2020 racial justice protests, activists "specifically targeted and vandalized" a vintage clothing store on Capitol Hill owned by McNew's wife.
  • It adds that such restrictions are also "important to set the standard for inquests in the future where law enforcement and civilian witnesses … do not wish to be photographed or videotaped to isolate them from harassment and threats."

Separately, lawyers for the city of Seattle filed a brief in support of the officers' motion, requesting that the inquest "be only audio-streamed and not video-recorded" for the public.

Yes, but: Karen Koehler, a lawyer for Lyles' family, argues the requested restrictions undermine fundamental open court and transparency principles that the county's new inquest procedures are based on.

  • Even blurring "the Officers' faces would be wholly inconsistent with the intent of the entire inquest process, which is to reassure the community in a transparent manner that the police shooting of a woman suffering a mental crisis, in her own home in the presence of her children, has gone through an objective process of review and without merely rubber stamping by the police or City," per Koehler's brief.

Why it matters: The inquest into Lyles' shooting death, which has been delayed for years while King County overhauled its inquest procedures and due to the pandemic, marks a significant milestone in the post-George Floyd-era of police accountability reforms in Washington.

  • Questions about Lyles' 2017 death — a Black mother of four who was shot by two white officers — resurfaced amid Seattle's tumultuous 2020 racial justice protests.

Catch up quick: Lyles, 30, a domestic violence victim with mental health problems, was fatally shot June 18, 2017 after McNew and Anderson responded to her 911 call reporting a burglary.

  • Lyles tried to attack the officers with a knife or knives inside her cramped apartment.
  • She was shot seven times.

Context: Lyles had called police at least 23 times in the year and a half before her death.

What's next: Spearman is expected to rule on the motion sometime after the parties see a video demonstration at the venue on Thursday and before the inquest starts on June 21.

Of note: Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of Lyles' death.

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