"Why did you shoot that man? He didn't do anything!"
The question was wrenched from a woman who had watched in horror as Police Officer Ian Birk pumped four shots into the body of John T. Williams on a Seattle street corner last August 30.
Birk claimed that he had been "threatened" by Williams, a 50-year-old alcoholic woodcarver who was carrying two closed knives at the time of the incident. The autopsy, however, documented that Williams wasn't facing Birk when he was shot: The officer approached him from behind and to the right, and Williams was shot in the right side of his body from an estimated distance of about ten feet. A fifth shot that missed the target was never accounted for.
No reasonable person would have considered Williams a threat to Birk; in fact, since the victim was partially deaf, it's likely he never clearly heard Birk's demand that he drop his carving knife, and died before understanding what was going on. The entire lethal encounter lasted less than eight seconds.