Exclusive: The Death of Charleena Lyles: SPD on Record
Editor’s Note: This is the first of three scheduled reports on the death of Charleena Lyles.
It has been nearly a month since Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, was shot and killed by officers of the Seattle Police Department after calling 911 about a burglary. Three of her children were home when she was killed.
Public outrage at the death of Ms. Lyles is more than fair, it is right. It is unquestionable: she should still be alive. The outcome, as SPD has admitted themselves, is unacceptable.
In a move unprecedented when compared to its history, SPD released critical information, including the 911 call by Ms. Lyles, audio of the responding officers on the scene, a screenshot of critical information officers reviewed before entering the building, video from the security camera in the hall outside Ms. Lyles’ apartment, transcripts of the officers’ interviews conducted by SPD’s FIT (Force Investigation Team), and a diagram of the incident scene created by Crime Scene Investigators which accounts for the placement of Ms. Lyles at the time she was shot, the location of knives, and the officers involved (Officer Anderson is not shown on the diagram).
The investigation into the shooting is still underway, and the release of such information given those circumstances flies in the face of the department’s own policies. Usually, it takes months or even years to access the amount of detailed information, and often it takes a news outlet going to court to force, not just SPD, but any law enforcement agency in the country, to make information public. Seattle Police released the information within days.
At the same time information was made public by SPD, communities were already taking action. The family put together a GoFundMe to raise $5000. Over $100,000 has been donated. Family, friends, neighbors and community set up a memorial outside of Ms. Lyles’ home, steps from the playground. People took to the streets and protested in large and small numbers. A Seattle City Councilmember hosted a community forum, and every member of the Council attended.
News outlets, large and small, made the death of Charleena Lyles their front page, breaking news story, whether in print, online, or television. What came next was a wave of links and stories, many designed simply to stoke the flames of an already righteous fire. Reporting as quickly as possible became a higher priority than reporting as accurately as possible. As a result, Ms. Lyles was often mischaracterized as were her children and family.
Rumors and stories were reported as fact, and the task of due diligence and fact checking was set aside. The police killed a pregnant black woman in front of her children. Attacking the department for coming off as “tone-deaf” was more satisfying -and profitable- than digging into the information made available or asking the department questions on record about what did, and did not happen.
There is massive distrust of police overall, and in this case, SPD in particular, which has a documented history of excessive use of force. In Seattle, just like anywhere else in the country, zip code and race often dictates one’s interaction with police. Despite reforms, an ongoing push for community oversight, and lawsuits, people like Ms. Lyles are still killed. With her death came the outrage of an entire nation at the rising body count of Black lives and the trauma left in its wake.
Trust is generally non-existent. The public has seen countless instances across the country where law enforcement agencies have given a version of events surrounding a shooting that in the end, didn’t match the facts. In the process the deceased is often mischaracterized or, some would argue intentionally, misrepresented.
It is no surprise then, that when someone is killed by police, the public and the media start looking for proof of lies. Did the shooting happen as the officers describe in their statements, or are they lying to cover something up?
Almost immediately after the death of Ms. Lyles, significant and alarming stories started to circulate about what happened leading to, during, or immediately after the shooting. Some outlets reported different versions, without checking the facts or available, verifiable information.
First, a claim that Ms. Lyles was in a relationship with an officer from SPD and or pregnant by an officer from SPD, potentially one of the responding officers. If true, it would upend the investigation and the public’s view of the department and the shooting. BOMBCo reported on this briefly at the time and what we know has not changed: the department has no knowledge of any such relationship and sources confirmed this particular claim, as with many others, will be explored in the course of the investigation. But according to what is already available, specifically the transcripts of officers’ statements to FIT, neither officer involved in the shooting knew Ms. Lyles or had been to her home before, including the June 5th incident.
Could one or both officers be lying? It doesn’t change what they said on record.
Second, within hours after Ms. Lyles was killed came an alleged account of the seconds and minutes after the last bullet was fired. Study closely, the diagram released by SPD, and created by CSI:
Ms. Lyles’ is marked with the letter “B” on the diagram. Her body is outside of the kitchen, near the living room. In their statements, the officers say Ms. Lyles did not move after she fell to the ground. She was 6 to 7 feet from the front door when she was shot, thus, if what officers say is true, she was 6-7 feet from the front door after she was shot, because she did not move after she was shot.
However, before the release of the diagram, a person came forward claiming to have seen Ms. Lyles right after she was shot. That person places Ms. Lyles’ body elsewhere. Instead of the location on the CSI diagram, they say Ms. Lyles was dead in her doorway. The person says they opened their own front door seconds after the shooting, looked out, and saw Ms. Lyles laying face up, her head, arms and part of her torso physically in the hallway. The bottom half of her torso, her legs and feet were not visible, because they were inside the apartment.
Look at the next graphic, altered by BOMBCo. We erased the “B” and added a purple + to show the difference.
Here is what we have confirmed:
If Ms. Lyles were killed in her doorway, that changes the location of her body by approximately 6-10 feet and puts her closer to the location of Officer Anderson (not shown in the diagram), who was in the doorway at the time of the shooting.
Are officers lying about where Ms. Lyles was standing when she was shot? It is entirely possible. However, one would have to ask why they would lie about where Ms. Lyles was standing. If she were in the doorway, according to that CSI diagram, Ms. Lyles would have been directly in front of or next to Officer Anderson, and closer to one of the knives she allegedly held in her hand, which is marked on the CSI diagram with the number “2”. Instead, she is 6-7 feet from him, and the entryway.
If Ms. Lyles were shot while standing where CSI marks her with the letter “B” she would not be visible to anyone looking down the hall as the individual described. However, if someone were standing outside of the entryway and the door to the apartment was open, one would be able to see her body on the floor inside the apartment. Further, if Ms. Lyles were shot while standing where CSI marks her with the letter “B” she would not be visible to anyone at the top of the stairwell or landing. An individual would have to be standing at a specific point east of the apartment entryway, or directly in the entryway, to see her body.
BOMBCo began reaching out to sources and contacts immediately following the death of Ms. Lyles, looking for any relevant information, not limited to any particular claim or witness account. As in other cases, we were looking for any information about what happened to Ms. Lyles. We started posing questions on record to SPD within 72 hours. We shared limited information publicly, in an article on our site. The rest was not published in order to research further.
Sources not connected to SPD reported Ms. Lyles was shot while inside her apartment, and not while standing in the doorway.
The building where Ms. Lyles lived had security cameras. SPD shared 24 hours of video leading up to the shooting, on their website. The video speed is increased, condensing the content to under 6 hours. The video raises questions, some of which have answers.
For example, does the shooting of Ms. Lyles happen on camera?
Many think of this as a simple, yes or no question. Either there is video showing Ms. Lyles being shot by police, or not. In reality, the answer depends on how “the shooting” is defined.
Is “the shooting” what is captured, visually on camera, or is it what was, or was not captured, during a specific time-frame while the camera was running? In terms of an investigation, the answer is what was or was not captured on camera during a specific time-frame while the camera was recording.
According to sources, Ms. Lyles door was open when the shooting happened. According to the officers’ statements, the door was closed when the shooting happened. If the door was open, it is possible Officer Anderson, or a portion of him, was captured on camera as the shooting happened. If the door was closed, what was or was not captured in frame is largely considered, by investigatory standards, to have happened “on camera” or “on tape,” which includes anyone in the hall before, during, or after Ms. Lyles was shot, and an array of other important information about the incident. In short what is not captured in frame is just as significant as what is captured in frame.
What happens before the shooting is on camera. Whether the door was open or closed is on camera. Whether Ms. Lyles was shot dead in her front doorway or not, is on camera, particularly if she was seen as described: arms outstretched, head to one side, eyes closed, not moving. If that happened, it is on the tape, which police have. If that happened, officers were not truthful in their statements.
What BOMBCo can confirm is on camera: Ms. Lyles’ children, taken from the home. Additional officers arriving at the apartment. And Ms. Lyles, as she is moved from the apartment to the hallway by first responders as they work for an unknown length of time to try and save her life.
SPD on Record
The perceived strength or weakness of SPD’s credibility notwithstanding, the role of journalists is to seek verifiable information, and publish what comes from principal sources, such as SPD or independent witnesses whose presence at the scene can be verified.
Whether Ms. Lyles was shot dead in her front doorway or not, is on camera, particularly if she was seen as described: arms outstretched, head to one side, eyes closed, not moving. If that happened, it is on the tape, which police have. SPD has not and likely will not release the rest of the video as the investigation is ongoing. But the very existence of the video means specific questions can, and should be asked.
BOMBCo asked SPD if the video shows Ms. Lyles shot in her front doorway, or if she falls in the front doorway, as previously described. SPD responded, on record: no.
IS SPD lying about that? One would have to ask the same question: why would they? If credibility is an issue for the department, boldly lying on record when asked pointed questions is, believe it or not, unlikely. It is more likely, and happens more often than not, that the department would either not respond to questions, give a canned, go-to answer (“We cannot discuss details of an ongoing investigation.”) or issue a blanket, “no comment.” They did not do that in this case, knowing additional video (and audio) exists, and at some point, likely will be public.
SPD also confirmed what sources told BOMBCo following the shooting: the video shows Ms. Lyles being moved from the apartment to the hallway by first responders as they work for an unknown length of time to try and save her life.
What is captured in frame is just as significant as what is not captured in frame.
This is the first of three scheduled reports on the death of Charleena Lyles. For previous reporting and to access information released by SPD, click here.
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