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Department of Justice
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Friday, January 13, 2012

Federal Officials Close the Investigation into the Death of Native American Woodcarver in Washington State

The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced today that they are closing the federal criminal civil rights investigation of a former Seattle Police Department Officer for the fatal shooting of the late Native American woodcarver John T. Williams, and that charges will not be filed. 


Officials from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI met today with the brother of the late Mr. Williams and family representatives to inform them of this decision.


The Justice Department conducted a comprehensive and independent investigation of the events surrounding the fatal shooting on Aug. 30, 2010. Federal investigators reviewed the patrol car videos of the incident; the testimony and exhibits admitted at the two-week King County, Wash., Superior Court inquest into this fatal shooting; the interrogatories filled out by the inquest jurors at the completion of the inquest; the report of the Seattle Police Department’s Firearms Review Board; the Seattle Police Department’s homicide investigative file, including all the eyewitness and forensic evidence; the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s memorandum declining state homicide charges; and the involved officer’s personnel and training files. Federal investigators visited the scene and also conducted interviews of civilian and law enforcement witnesses.             


Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law. Accident, mistake, fear, negligence or bad judgment is not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.  After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the former Seattle Police Officer acted willfully and with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. 


Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed without prosecution.


The Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington and the FBI devoted significant time and resources into conducting a thorough and independent investigation. The Justice Department is committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all serious allegations of civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated.  The department aggressively prosecutes criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence under the legal standard imposed by law.

Press Release Number: 
Updated August 24, 2015