Cop left Taser in locker. His partner called for it before fatal shooting

People begin marching after a vigil outside where Charleena Lyles was shot and killed Sunday by police in Seattle.
People begin marching after a vigil outside where Charleena Lyles was shot and killed Sunday by police in Seattle. The Associated Press

One of the Seattle police officers who fatally shot Charleena Lyles is under internal investigation for violating department policy by leaving his uncharged Taser in his locker for more than a week leading up to the shooting, the Police Department’s civilian watchdog said Saturday.

Officer Jason Anderson, on the force for two years, told investigators after the shooting that he did not carry his Taser during his shift June 18, when the shooting occurred, according to interview transcripts released by Seattle police.

Seconds before the shooting, Anderson said, when Lyles pulled a knife, the other officer, Steven McNew, called out for him to use his Taser on her. Anderson replied that he didn’t have it, and within seconds, as Lyles began moving toward the two officers, Anderson said, they both shot her.

The shooting of Lyles, a 30-year-old African-American mother of four, by two white officers has drawn an outcry from family and others, who say race was a factor.

Anderson said after the shooting that even if he had other less-lethal weapons, he would have shot Lyles because she had lunged at him with a knife and looked as if she was going to try to stab the other officer. Anderson said he feared for his life and had to suck in his stomach and move back to avoid being stabbed.

Anderson said that for the last couple of months he had been considering abandoning the Taser altogether, saying it was taking up too much space on his vest and belt for his slender frame. When the Taser’s battery died, he left it in his locker and didn’t get it recharged. He said it had been in his locker, uncharged, for one to two weeks.

Seattle police policy says officers who are trained in using Tasers and have been issued one must carry it with them during a shift. Anderson said he told his squadmates about forgoing the Taser, but did not mention telling any superiors.

Pierce Murphy, the civilian head of Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), said that after Anderson told detectives he had left the Taser behind, the department referred the case to the OPA for investigation.

Murphy’s internal investigation team will look to see if there were good reasons to explain why Anderson didn’t have his Taser. They’ll give their findings and a recommendation to police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who could discipline Anderson.

Murphy said the case was unusual and there aren’t set guidelines for disciplining officers found to be violating the Taser policy.

“There’s no cookbook here,” he said.

Lyles had called police to her Northeast Seattle apartment to report a burglary last Sunday. Three children were inside during the shooting, including one who crawled onto Lyles after she was shot in the midsection and fell facedown on the floor, according to the police transcripts.

A day after the shooting, Lyles’ sister, Monika Williams, brought up the Taser issue and asked whyofficers couldn’t have taken her down without shooting her.

“Why couldn’t they have Tased her?” Williams said.

Following the release of the transcripts of the officers’ interviews, Williams’ sentiment was echoed Saturday by another sibling and the president of the Seattle-King County NAACP.

“The Taser would have helped,” said Domico Jones, Lyles’ younger brother. “I think any of those (less-lethal) weapons would have saved my sister’s life. My family wouldn’t be mourning today.”

Gerald Hankerson, the local NAACP president, called the revelation that Anderson did not bring his Taser “astonishing.”

“At the end of the day, this young lady is dead because this officer left his Taser in his locker,” Hankerson said. “He was ill-prepared and irresponsible to deal with the public, and this just shows he would rather go out in the community believing he needs nothing but his gun. That speaks volumes about his mentality.”

Hankerson added the officer’s claim that he would have used his gun even if he had the Taser isn’t supported by the audio recording of the shooting.

“Why would one officer call for a Taser during the incident?” Hankerson said. “That tells you right there the other officer apparently believed or knew less-than-lethal force was the only response that was necessary.”