SEATTLE - The Seattle police officer who shot and killed a woodcarver carrying a knife will not face a criminal charge, officials announced Wednesday.
Washington law protects police officers from a homicide charge unless there's evidence of malice or bad faith, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said at a news conference.
"Unlike the rest of us they do not have the option of walking away," Satterberg said.
Nonetheless, Satterberg called the Aug. 30 shooting of John T. Williams by Officer Ian Birk troubling and said Birk may be disciplined by the Seattle Police Department, and the city could face a civil lawsuit.
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Satterberg said he received 1,200 e-mails about the case with many people urging him to charge Birk as a way to bridge the divide with minorities who fear they will be mistreated by police.
A crowd had gathered outside City Hall during the announcement and several told KING-TV that Birk should have been charged with manslaughter.
The decision against charging had been expected.
Williams' brother, Rick Williams, told KOMO Radio he was not surprised.
"I kind of expected all this because of the way the system is," he said. He said the Williams represent generations of First Nation woodcarvers who have represented Seattle honorably. He complained that Birk had been glorified.
Birk's lawyer, Ted Buck, told KOMO Radio this was not a criminal case.
"Police officers are forced to make decisions as to how to deal with those kinds of threats in split seconds and there are going to be these kinds of problems in the future," he said.
Birk, 27, confronted Williams, 50, as he crossed a street holding a piece of wood and the knife with a 3-inch blade. A coroner's inquest jury in January did not agree on answers to questions about the shooting.
The jury watched surveillance video taken from Birk's patrol car, which showed him getting out of the car to pursue Williams, who had crossed the street in front of the cruiser. Off camera, Birk quickly shouted three times for Williams to drop the knife, then fired five shots.
Of the eight jurors, just one said Williams posed a threat. Four jurors said Williams did not pose a threat, and three others said they didn't know.
Birk testified that Williams had a "very stern, very serious, very confrontational look on his face" and was in a "confrontational posture" when he opened fire.
An autopsy found that Williams' blood-alcohol level was at 0.18 percent, above the 0.08 percent level at which a driver is considered legally drunk.
The police department's Firearms Review Board is expected to convene and rule on whether the shooting was justified.
Birk has been on paid leave since the shooting.