De-Escalate Washington chair Andre Taylor says I-940 signatures will be at 340,000 when they're delivered to the state at the end of the year.
De-Escalate Washington chair Andre Taylor says I-940 signatures will be at 340,000 when they're delivered to the state at the end of the year.

De-Escalate Washington advocates and family members of Charleena Lyles on Friday said reports that a Seattle Police Department’s Force Review Board found the shooting death of the mother of four in June was within policy is another example for why those policies need to change.

Lyles called police to her Seattle apartment on June 18 for a reported burglary, and ended up being shot seven times while three of her children were present. The officers say the 30-year-old pregnant woman lunged at them with a knife. According to an autopsy report, two of the shots came from the back. There had been a mental health caution for Lyles prior to the events of June 18.

The Seattle Times first reported on Nov. 15 that the Force Review Board found the shooting by two police officers was “reasonable, proportional and within policy, according to sources familiar with the decision.”

“If that’s the case, that’s problematic,” said Andre Taylor, founder of Not this Time and chair for the De-Escalate Washington campaign, during a press conference Friday inside city hall. “We need a change here in Washington state. That’s what De-Escalate is all about.”

De-Escalate Washington is leading the campaign for Initiative 940, which would reform standards for using deadly force, and also require law enforcement officers to receive regular trainings in violence de-escalation, identifying and assisting people suffering from a mental health issue, and performing first aid. Taylor said his brother bled out on the street for eight minutes without receiving first aid.

The Seattle Times report of the Force Review Board’s decision precedes an April 16 inquest hearing into the death of Lyles, and the finding was reportedly passed unanimously.

“If her death is within policy, then policy has to changed,” said Katrina Johnson, Lyles’ first cousin, adding 33 other families of police shooting victims stand with De-Escalate Washington. “No justice is going to be had if we don’t have a change in policy.”

The Seattle Community Police Commission tweeted on Thursday night that it does not believe the report had been completed, and the commission would not comment until it was.

“That was a Seattle Times story that was sourced,” said Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb with the public affairs office. “It’s still an active process, and we’re not commenting on it.”

Johnson said I-940 would make it so there are independent investigations into officer-involved shootings, and there is no faith in the SPD investigating its own officers.

Marilyn Covarrubias said she supports I-940 because it would train officers in how to better respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis, such as what her son, Daniel, was going through when he was killed by Lakewood Police officers on April 21, 2015.

“Daniel should have come home,” she said. “He’d done nothing wrong.”

Covarrubias said her son had been in a motorcycle accident days earlier and did not receive the help he needed when he went to a hospital. She said he was suffering hallucinations from a mix of painkillers he shouldn’t have been given. The News Tribune reported he had asked staff to remove cameras in his eyes.

Officers shot Daniel Covarrubias when he pointed a black cellphone at them while they were ordering him to comply; he was 25 feet up on a pile of lumber. The News Tribune reported witnesses said the phone looked like a gun because of the way it was held.

“Daniel should be home,” Covarrubias said, “and he would be home if someone had just taken the time to find out what was going on.”

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant joined the press conference, but waited until it was over to read a prepared statement in support of I-940. She said before her statement that legal counsel had advised her against discussing a lawsuit filed against her by two Seattle Police officers earlier this year for condemning their actions in the shooting death of Taylor’s brother, Che Taylor, on Feb. 21, 2016.

Sawant said she had called for an independent review of Lyles’ death back in June, adding the review board’s reported findings demonstrates why one is needed. She also chastised Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, saying she has not been willing to address the city council in an open meeting for more than a year.

“According to the Seattle Times Wednesday, they somehow decided that shooting a small, pregnant mother of four, in front of her children, shooting her seven times, including twice in the back, is reasonable and consistent with the Seattle Police Department’s policies,” Sawant said. “In other words, the leadership of the Seattle Police Department thinks this sort of brutal violence is reasonable. And if anyone had doubt in the past, it is now clear that the SPD cannot be trusted to police themselves.”

Taylor said De-Escalate Washington has broad support, and he expects to have 340,000 I-940 signatures to the state by the end of the year to make the November 2018 ballot. He said more than $800,000 has been raised for the campaign.

“Because they don’t make something like this easy for you to put on the ballot.”