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The Globe and Mail

Family of Seattle woman killed by police say officers knew she had mental-health issues

People attend a memorial outside an apartment building in Seattle on June 18, 2017.

Ken Lambert/AP

Family members of a pregnant mother shot and killed by Seattle police questioned Monday why they didn't use a Taser or other non-lethal options when they encountered the woman, who the officers knew had been struggling with mental health issues.

The two officers had gone to Charleena Lyles' apartment on Sunday after she reported a burglary. She confronted them with a knife, authorities said.

An audio recording of the encounter released by police indicates the officers spent about two minutes calmly speaking with Lyles before the situation escalated in the span of a few seconds.

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"Get back! Get back!" an officer says, and a woman's voice responds, "Do it! Do it!" An officer radios "We need help!" and the police say "Get back!" again three more times before five gunshots are heard.

Seattle police said the officers immediately performed first aid, but medics arrived and determined she had died.

The shooting comes as Seattle police are under federal oversight following a 2011 investigation that found officers were too quick to use force. In recent years. All Seattle officers receive training on how to better handle those with mental illness or abusing drugs.

Kenny Isabell said his cousin, Lyles, was pregnant and some of her four other children were inside the apartment during the shooting. He said she was depressed but not violent and "was going through some things in her life."

Still, she was attending his church regularly while making an effort to improve her life, said Isabell, pastor of The Way of Holiness Church of God in Seattle. "Now this. It's unfortunate. It's disturbing."

Lyles was black, and Isabell said he's frustrated with police killing black people across the country.

"Do our lives really matter to them?" he asked. "What do you want from us? We try to comply and this is still happening. You're killing our young men and now a young woman has died."

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Police would not release the identities of the officers or their race.

The department said it had been a typical burglary report and "two officers were required due to information pertaining to this address that presented an increased risk to officers."

Near the beginning of the roughly four-minute police audio recording, before they reach the apartment, the officers discuss a "safety caution" about the address and a previous law enforcement interaction with the woman.

The officers talk about the woman previously brandishing large metal shears during an encounter with police, trying to prevent officers from leaving her apartment, and making "weird statements" about her and her daughter turning into wolves.

Seattle Municipal Court records show that Lyles was arrested June 5 and booked into King County Jail. She pleaded not guilty to two counts harassment and obstructing a police officer at her arraignment the next day.

Further details of the incident weren't immediately available. She was released from jail Wednesday on certain conditions, according to King County jail records.

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Detectives from the use of force team will investigate the Sunday shooting that Mayor Ed Murray called a tragedy for everyone involved.

"Our historic police reforms, from de-escalation training to civilian-monitored force review, are in place to address such crises. This will be fully investigated," Murray said.

He added that the investigation will be reviewed by a federal monitoring team supervising a consent decree involving the Seattle Police Department.

Seattle officials agreed in 2012 to an independent monitor and federal court oversight of the department after a federal investigation found Seattle officers routinely used excessive force.

Under the agreement with the Justice Department, Seattle police adopted a new policy dictating that uses of force by officers must be reasonable, necessary and proportional to the threat or urgency of the situation.

Deadly force is permitted only when there's an imminent threat of death or serious injury to an officer or others.

In a report in April, the court-appointed monitor found that the reforms had prompted a stunning drop in how often officers use serious force — with no rise in crime or officer injuries.

During a 28-month span from 2014 to 2016, incidents in which Seattle officers used force that caused or could be expected to cause injury fell at least 60 per cent from a similar period from 2009 to 2011.

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