Steven McNew and Jason Anderson have been identified as the Seattle police officers involved in the shooting death of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother who was killed with her children in the apartment, including one with Down syndrome.
The shooting death of Lyles, 30, on June 19 has sparked protests in Seattle. Both officers opened fire, according to King 5, and are on administrative leave. The officers are seen above in the hallway outside Lyles’ apartment in a video released by police; Seattle police blotted out their faces.
Lyles’ family and community protesters say that the officers could have used less lethal means to subdue the slight mother of four, who had a history of mental health issues and was so tiny her brother used to call her “String Bean Leen.” Police said she had produced two knives. Outrage is growing over the death, which has led to vigils and calls for a civil rights investigation.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Lyles Was Shot to Death After Calling Police for Help With a Burglary
One troubling element of the shooting death is the fact that Lyles was the person who called police to the housing complex in the first place. She called to report a burglary.
The police version is that Lyles produced a knife once police arrived at the scene. Lyles’ family told The Seattle Times that Lyles was “worried that authorities would take her children, one of whom has Down syndrome.” Her family believes that race was a factor in the shooting because Lyles was black and Steven McNew and Jason Anderson are white.
“Why couldn’t they have Tased her? They could have taken her down. I could have taken her down,” said Monika Williams, Lyles’ sister, to The Seattle Times.
The police say the shooting is under investigation. They said in a statement that the call was “a typical burglary report,” and “Two officers were required due to information pertaining to this address that presented an increased risk to officers.”
“Officers arrived and went to the fourth floor to meet with the complainant. Officers were confronted by a 30-year-old woman armed with a knife. Both officers fired their duty weapons, striking the woman. The officers immediately performed first aid while the Seattle Fire Department responded, but the fire department declared the woman deceased once they arrived,” the Seattle police said.
According to The Associated Press, less than two weeks before the fatal shooting, Lyles “had threatened officers with long metal shears when they responded to a domestic disturbance at her home.”
2. Police Released Video & Audio Recordings of the Shooting
Police released video of the officers approaching Lyles’ apartment complex and in the apartment hall. You can watch it above.
An audio file released by police is most disturbing. It captures the gunfire as Lyles is shot, and you can hear children in the background. You can listen to the audio file below, but be aware it’s graphic.
In the audio, Officers McNew and Anderson discuss previous contacts they had with Lyles, who had an arrest history that her family said stemmed from mental health issues.
One officer says, apparently referring to a past incident: “She started talking all crazy about how the officers weren’t going to leave.” There was an officer safety caution listed on her, one of the officers said. It’s not clear which officer is McNew and which is Anderson in the audio file.
The audio is 4 minutes 3 seconds long. It also captures the officers speaking to Lyles, although parts of the audio file are redacted, and parts of the conversation are hard to hear. The conversation the officers had with Lyles started out non-confrontational.
“You called? Can we come in?” an officer says.
“Um, there was a break in,” Lyles said. “…someone broke into the house.”
“Do you have any idea who it might have been or anything like that?” says an officer.
“I have no idea.”
They ask her name.
Children can be heard in the background. Lyles tells officers an X Box was taken.
“Get back, get back” an officer says. “Hey get back, get back.” Right before that utterance, Lyles refers to the officers as “motherf*ckers.” Although the audio can be hard to hear, some interpret that as “get ready motherf*ckers” and one officer tells dispatch “We need help…a woman with two knives.” He tells his partner to tase her, but his partner says he doesn’t have a taser. Again, it’s not clear which officer is McNew and which is Anderson in the audio file.
Gunfire rings out about 11 seconds after the first get back statement.
Seattle police said in a statement, “The audio file was captured by the officers’ dashcam video system, which was operational in the patrol cars of both responding officers. While property crimes reports typically require only one officer to be dispatched, two officers were dispatched to this particular call for service because of a recent officer safety caution associated with the caller.”
Added Seattle police: “Both officers were equipped with less lethal force options, per department policy. All Seattle police officers receive Crisis Intervention Training. The audio file depicts the conversation between the officers just prior to contacting the caller as they discuss the history of the residence and their concerns. The audio also captured some of the interaction with the caller prior to the rapid development of the use of force incident. Please note that all names as well as the caller’s address and telephone number have been redacted.”
3. Lyles’ Children Were in the Apartment, Including One With Down Syndrome
Lyles was a mother of four children, one of whom has Down syndrome. Police confirmed that some of the children were in the apartment at the time of the shooting.
The Stranger interviewed a neighbor, Lhora Murray, 42, who told the news outlet “police handed her two of the victim’s children—a 10-year-old and the toddler with down syndrome.” She told The Stranger that the 10-year-old told her, “They shot my mom.”
Photos showed officers taking children from the scene.
Lyles filled her Facebook page with photos and comments about her children and motherhood. In 2016, she wrote on Facebook, “When it rains it poors u got to be a strong mf to fight a battle alone 👊✊💪keep ya head up👆i got this.” That same year, she wrote, “What a mighty God we serve!!! Can I get everybody to praise him with me? He is so worthy to be praised!!! Copy and paste…. Let’s go!!”
Her Facebook profile said simply: “i am a child of God.”
4. The Officers Had Received Crisis Training for Dealing With the Mentally Ill
According to King 5 reporter Ryan Takeo, Ofc. Steven McNew was hired on February 5, 2008 and Ofc. Jason Anderson was hired on April 28, 2015. Both officers McNew and Anderson were assigned to the North Precinct for Seattle police and had undergone crisis training for how to deal with people showing mental health symptoms, according to the Associated Press.
AP reported that Seattle police are “under federal oversight following a 2011 investigation that found officers were too quick to use force.” As a result, “All Seattle officers now receive training on how to better handle those with mental illness or abusing drugs. One of the officers who shot Lyles had been certified as a crisis intervention specialist,” reported AP.
McNew’s name comes up in a Seattle police commendation for a past incident involving a person with a knife. It reads, “Patrol Sergeant commends Officers McNew, Knoblauch, and Parton for their response to an incident involving a person armed with a knife threatening suicide.”
His name also appears in the above video on tasings dating to 2015. The attached investigative summary with that video says that officers deployed tasers on a man who was accused of coming at them with a grinder when they responded to a burglary complaint. The officers’ conduct was upheld after they were accused of using the taser out of compliance with policy.
McNew served as past director of the Seattle Police Athletic Association.
5. Protests Have Erupted Over the Shooting Death of Lyles, Whose Family Says Had Mental Health Struggles
Hundreds of people attended vigils and protests over Lyles’ death, saying the shooting was a double homicide because Lyles’ sister says she was pregnant.
A double rainbow was seen over one protest scene.
Seattle’s Civil Rights Committee will hold a hearing on the shooting, according to King 5.
According to The Seattle Times, “Three of Lyles’ children attend three Seattle schools. The Seattle teachers union encouraged its members to wear Black Lives Matter shirts and stickers.”