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Autopsy: Seattle woman was pregnant when shot by police

Relatives embrace at a memorial outside where a pregnant mother was shot and killed by police, Tuesday, June 20, 2017 in Seattle. Police officers shot and killed 30-year-old Charleena Lyles on June 18 after authorities said Lyles confronted the officers with a knife. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Relatives embrace at a memorial outside where a pregnant mother was shot and killed by police, Tuesday, June 20, 2017 in Seattle. Police officers shot and killed 30-year-old Charleena Lyles on June 18 after authorities said Lyles confronted the officers with a knife. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Christine Clarridge Seattle Times

SEATTLE – A newly released autopsy report shows Charleena Lyles was shot seven times by Seattle police and was 14 to 15 weeks’ pregnant when she died.

The report, released by an attorney representing Lyles’ father, Charles Lyles, also states the 30-year-old mother had no drugs or alcohol in her system when she was fatally shot during a June 18 confrontation with two police officers at her Northeast Seattle apartment.

Three of the gunshots fired by officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew struck Lyles in the front of the torso and chest, three struck her in the back or rear of her arm, and one grazed the side of her ribs, according to the report.

Several of the wounds would have been life-threatening on their own, including the one that cut through her uterus and the fetus, according to an autopsy performed by the King County medical examiner’s office.

Police have said the two officers fired their weapons when Lyles lunged at one of them with one or two knives.

“I thought I was at the low point of being sad, but the sadness just got worse,” Charles Lyles said through his attorney, Karen Koehler. “Hearing the details of the shooting just makes me feel more empty. I lost my daughter and my next grandson. I just don’t have the words.”

Koehler said the family decided to release the autopsy and toxicology reports to challenge some assumptions in the media and public discourse about Lyles.

“If you have been reading the dialogue you might have assumed she was a poor, single black woman with multiple children who must have been on drugs, and that is a false assumption and a false narrative,” Koehler said.

She said she felt like crying when she read the autopsy report, which stated that one bullet perforated “the upper midline uterus causing herniation of a fetus in its amniotic sac into the peritoneal cavity.”

“I know the baby is not considered a baby until it is viable under our rules of law, but as a human and a mother, it’s so upsetting,” Koehler said.

Seattle police declined to comment on the autopsy Wednesday morning. A police investigation into the shooting is continuing.

The shooting of Lyles – who was killed after she called police to report a residential burglary in her home – has sparked vigils, protests and angry denunciations.

It incensed some in a nation already rife with turmoil over the shooting of black men at the hands of police, and underscored what experts say is a burgeoning need for law enforcement officers to receive training in how to handle people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Lyles’ family has said the shooting could have been avoided and that they believe race was a factor. The officers who shot Lyles are white.

According to Lyles’ family and police and court records, she had a history of mental health issues that seemed to escalate about a year and a half before her fatal encounter with police. In the 18 months before her death, 38 Seattle officers responded to 23 calls for help involving Lyles, many of which involved an abusive ex-boyfriend.

In fact, 13 days before she was killed, she called police with a domestic violence report and then threatened officers with 12-inch shears when they arrived, according to police.

But one of the officers was able to talk to her and calm her down, police said.

She “stated that she should have just stabbed me when she had the chance, but then said she could tell I had a good heart, and that it’s unfortunate they ‘always send the good ones,’ ” wrote Officer Nathan Bauer in his written report of the June 5 incident.

On June 18, officers McNew andAnderson had responded to Lyles’ apartment after she called 911 to report that someone had broken in and stolen two video-game consoles. However, surveillance video from outside her apartment showed no one had entered her apartment in the hours before she was shot.

As Lyles described what was missing from her apartment, she suddenly attacked both officers with one or two knives, Anderson and McNew said in recorded interviews with investigators.

Lyles ignored at least six commands to get back, according to court documents filed in the case.

Both officers fired.

Three of Lyles’ children were in the apartment when she died.

Investigators are continuing to look into the shooting, including why Anderson had left his uncharged Taser in his locker. Ultimately, the shooting will reviewed by a police board, an inquest jury and the King County prosecuting attorney’s office.

Koehler earlier this month filed a six-page claim filed against the city of Seattle, claiming the two officers who shot Lyles “lost their composure” when she began waving the knife or knives around and that they failed to order her to drop her weapon and warn her they would shoot.

The claim also alleges that police knew Lyles had mental health issues and should have had a plan for dealing with her in compliance with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

The claim is a first step toward filing a lawsuit alleging the officers violated Lyles’ civil rights and are responsible for her wrongful death.

“The police narrative is that she had a knife and they were justified in shooting her dead,” Koehler said. “They don’t want to talk about the fact that they knew she had recent mental health issues but chose to go in without any game plan.”

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