On Jan. 10, King County will start its inquest into the death of John T. Williams, the 50-year-old Native American carver shot Aug. 30 by a Seattle police officer as he was walking down the street with a pocketknife.
The Seattle Police Department is anxious to have as many Native Americans attend the event as possible, according to Capt. Ron Wilson. To ensure that, Wilson, head of SPD's Community Outreach Section, laid out court rules at the Dec. 15 meeting of SPD's Native American Advisory Council.
Among them, people can't bring weapons or signs into the King County Courthouse and must remain quiet. In addition to the current metal detectors inside the doors of the courthouse, Wilson said security will set up a second screening station outside the actual courtroom of the inquest.
An overflow room is also planned for people to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television, he said. Many of the 15 Native Americans and activists in attendance told Wilson they didn't care about his rules.
"We can go to the inquest to support the family, but there's no justice in the justice system," said Susanne Chambers, John Williams' adopted sister. "The undercurrent of feeling in the community is that this is a done deal, the [officer's] not going to go to jail."
Whether or not he does isn't up to the six members of the inquest jury, Sheri Day, a member of the John T. Williams Organizing Committee, said outside the meeting. That's part of the problem, she said: Inquests are framed to justify an officer's actions.
The prosecutor has put forward 15 questions for the jury to answer, she said, but all of them focus on whether Williams was holding a knife and whether the officer, Ian Birk, believed he was in danger of harm.
"They can't step out of those questions and they are designed to make it OK to do whatever the police do the way they decide to do it," Day said. "It underscores that we need some fundamental institutional changes."