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City settles with family of slain woodcarver

The City has reached a $1.5 million settlement of the claims brought by the Williams family concerning the death of the late John T. Williams, who was shot by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk last August. Settlement was reached after a mediation involving representatives of the Williams Estate, Williams’ mother and the City.

The payment will go to Williams’ Estate and his mother. Under the terms of the agreement, the City will pay part of the money in trust for Williams’ mother and part of the money into the Registry of the Court, which will hold the money in escrow while distribution issues are resolved. The court will approve the appropriate distribution of the money. A special representative will be appointed to represent any other potential heirs, although none has been located or come forward.

The Williams family expressed relief that the matter could be resolved early without extended litigation. 

The Seattle Police Department’s Firearms Review Board ruled the shooting unjustified on February 16, 2011 and Birk resigned from the force the same day.  Although Birk resigned, SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) continued with its internal investigation. On March 14, the OPA recommended to Chief John Diaz that allegations of misconduct against Birk be sustained.  On April 14, Chief Diaz formally terminated Birk’s employment.

The mediation followed a number of positive meetings aimed at building trust between SPD and the Native American community. The parties are pleased to be able to resolve the case without protracted litigation that could have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees. “This is one step towards justice, but it is only a step.  Nothing can make up for the loss of my brother,” said Rick Williams, who is the administrator of the Estate of John T. Williams.