Just hours after a thunderous chant of “release the video” broke out at a press conference on Thursday about the fatal shooting of Malik Williams, police provided video footage of the December 2019 incident.
In addition to pressuring law enforcement to release the video, press conference organizers also aimed to call out forceful policing, which they said has historically targeted young people of color in South King County.
Williams, a 23-year-old black man, was killed by Federal Way police in a shooting — which also injured two officers — shortly after midnight on Dec. 31, 2019 at the Southridge House Apartments in the 30800 block of 14th Ave. S. in Federal Way.
Federal Way officers responded to reports of a noise disturbance and upon arrival, found Williams and a female witness allegedly arguing while sitting in a vehicle in the apartment complex parking lot. In the video, two police vehicles can be seen pulling up and parking in front of the vehicle where Williams was sitting in the front passenger seat. The female driver opens the car door and gets out of the vehicle.
The two officers then approach the vehicle, shining flashlights as one of the officers opens the front passenger door and talks to Williams, and the other officer speaks with the female on the driver’s side of the car.
The surveillance video footage then shows another police vehicle park near the scene and a third officer slowly sidesteps towards Williams’ side of the vehicle approximately 30 seconds after the first two officers get to the car. He also appears to shine a flashlight into the the car. Williams is seen with something in his hand — a beer bottle, his step father later said — which Williams then sets on the ground. During this time, at least two of the officers on scene have face-to-face conversations with Williams.
Within several minutes, four more police vehicles arrive on scene.
Initial police reports stated Williams was “uncooperative” with police. In the video, an officer next to the open car door is seen shining flashlight on Williams. A quick movement within the car spurs an eruption of gunfire.
“It was like it was a mob … something you see in all the movies,” said Marvin Donell Walker Sr., Williams’ biological father, of the video footage at the press conference on Thursday morning in Seattle.
“My son’s hands, clearly you are able to see them. He made no gestures of pointing any type of weapon … at these officers.”
Not This Time, a community organization founded by Andre Taylor focusing on reducing fatal police shootings, hosted the conference to share details of the video — previously only shown to family members and close individuals — and apply pressure on law enforcement release the video to the public.
Williams’s mother, attorney, brother, biological father and step-father, along with more than 40 additional friends, family members, community supporters and justice advocates gathered at the press conference.
Grief blanketed the crowd as dozens cried; fury over the so-called injustice spewed from the room as family members and supporters spoke about the death of 23-year-old Williams.
“Why would they shoot 86 times into a car if they did not mean to hurt him? That’s the point I’m trying to figure out. Can they be responsible for that?” said Williams’ step-father Marvin Phelps, voice booming with pain before he broke into tears. “That’s all I’m asking. Can they own that [responsibility]?”
According to Renton Police Cmdr. David Leibman, investigators recovered 84 casings from the scene, but until ballistics return from the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, it is undetermined how many bullets were fired by the officers — and which officers — and how many were shot by Williams.
Previously, the Valley Independent Investigations Team shared in a Feb. 3 news release that investigators recovered a black 9mm handgun from the car, which was submitted to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for processing.
In April 2018, Williams was charged with first-degree robbery after robbing two people at gunpoint on separate incidents at the Renton Transit Center. He was sentenced in January 2019 to concurrently serve 15 months in prison for second-degree robbery and nine months for first-degree theft for the crimes.
Williams’ sister Monique Phelps shared via Facebook her brother was allegedly shot at a transit center in 2012, which she referred to as a second chance from God “to stay out [of] the streets,” the Mirror previously reported, and said he was given a third chance in 2017 when he allegedly shot himself and went to jail for carrying a firearm.
In the 2019 fatal shooting, VIIT also determined that Williams fired first at the police officers, stating “Williams opened fire, striking two of the seven officers who had responded. The officers returned fire, mortally wounding Williams.”
During the investigation, officials later learned that Williams used a wheelchair, and “at the time of the incident, the chair was secured in the back seat with the wheel removed,” according to the previous news release. “The windows were tinted and the chair was likely not visible to the officers.”
Leibman told the Mirror that “in an effort to be transparent” VIIT released “more information than normal” with the Feb. 3 news release and the surveillance video police provided last week after prompting from the press conference.
“Our mission is to gather facts and evidence in order to impartially and accurately determine the chain of events,” Leibman stated.
Of the two injured officers, a 30-year-old male corporal suffered one gunshot to the chest and another to the arm. The second officer, a 38-year-old man, was shot in the leg.
In total, all seven of the involved officers were subsequently placed on administrative leave following the incident, Federal Way police chief Andy Hwang said in a press conference held hours after the shooting on New Years Eve 2019.
While VIIT’s investigation is still ongoing, all of the Federal Way officers except for one have returned to full duty as of Feb. 21, confirmed Cmdr. Kurt Schwan of Federal Way police.
“The remaining officer is on administrative leave and is rehabilitating at home, but we anticipate him returning to a light-duty assignment very soon while he continues to heal so he can eventually return to full duty status,” Schwan stated in an email to the Mirror.
Schwan said following an initial briefing with VIIT, Hwang determined the officers could return to duty.
“We believe this to be a valid use of force,” Schwan said of the shooting, noting the officers were sent to a fit for duty evaluation before they returned to work.
In addition, the Federal Way Police Department on Feb. 7 updated the classification of the incident from a homicide to a justifiable homicide, according to police documents. State law cites that the use of deadly force is justifiable in several cases, including if the suspect threatens an officer with a weapon or displays a weapon in a manner that could reasonable be construed as threatening.
Under Initiative 940, or the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act (LETCSA), the Federal Way Police Department — as the involved agency — is prohibited from commenting on the investigation, Schwan told the Mirror on Feb. 21.
An overabundance of forceful policing is a historic problem that continues to be prevalent in our community, said Not This Time founder Andre Taylor at the Feb. 20 press conference. Washington civil rights attorney James Bible echoed Taylor’s sentiment as he declared a state of emergency for young people of color in South King County.
“The heartbreaking reality is that black and brown children are in danger in South King County. I can’t think of a town in South King County where I don’t have a child that has been killed by police,” Bible said. “And every time the messaging from every city in South King County is blaming the person that’s dead.”
Press conference speakers reminisced about Williams, saying he was a “great kid” who had people who loved him and a community that embraced him.
“That wasn’t part of the messaging of the Federal Way Police Department,” Bible said. “Instead, they blindly — or purposely — sought to mislead everyone in the community … They sought to tell us all ‘don’t pay attention to the black child.’”
Bible continued that this region has a domestic violence relationshiop with law enforcement.
“And what I mean is they can harm us and then they try to tell us ‘don’t talk about it.’” He continued: “Don’t say anything. Don’t stand up for your child. Don’t be emotional about it. Don’t demand something more.”
Bible urged the Federal Way Police Department to follow through with all aspects of transparency.
“I dare them to say that they would do this to a white child,” Bible said, which was met with applause. “Because the reality is that they wouldn’t.”
Williams’ father Walker pushed Federal Way police to take accountability for their actions and called on the officers involved in the shooting and the police chief to resign.
“You guys get to go home to your kids and your loved ones, and you just took a part of my soul from me,” Walker said. “… No amount of money can bring him back. We want your careers, we want your badges.”