As the months continue to pass since Malik Williams was shot and killed by Federal Way police, his family members are demanding answers — and within 30 days.
Outside of Federal Way City Hall on June 28, a crowd of more than 65 protesters gathered in support of justice for Malik Williams, a 23-year-old paraplegic Black man who was fatally shot by officers on Dec. 31, 2019.
With the investigation still ongoing, limited details have been provided about what led up to the shooting as well as actions taken by the officers’ before firing and why the investigation is taking so long, family members say.
Williams was struck by officers’ gunfire in a shootout, which also injured two officers, shortly after midnight at the Southridge House Apartments in the 30800 block of 14th Avenue South in Federal Way, the Mirror previously reported.
Officers were responding to a noise complaint in a car parked outside of the apartment building. Upon arrival, two officers walked up to the car with flashlights and appeared to speak with Williams before a movement spurred an eruption of gunfire, the video shows. Footage appears to freeze from the 2:20 minute mark to the 3:16 minute mark, prior to when the shooting begins.
Of the seven involved officers, a 30-year-old male corporal suffered one gunshot to the chest and another to the arm. A 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 Year’s Eve 2019. As of June 24, six officers have returned to full-duty; one of the injured officers remains on leave to recover from a gunshot wound sustained during the shootout.
Investigators previously said Williams was the first to open fire at the officers. 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 bullets were fired by Williams. The autopsy report states Williams was shot three times.
On Sunday, voices of the grieving echoed in front of Federal Way City Hall.
“We gotta fight for what’s right. And what’s right is to tell us what y’all know so we can make our own conclusions on our side,” Williams’ step-father Marvin Phelps said of the police department. “Because we know what y’alls conclusion was already: shoot to kill.”
The family’s main request is transparency.
“For six months, we have patiently waited for the police to supply us with all of the investigative reports,” Marvin Phelps said. “To date, we have not received anything. Nothing.”
Investigation and transparency
Tukwila Deputy Chief Eric Drever, acting spokesperson for the Valley Independent Investigations Team (VIIT), expressed understanding for the family’s demands and exasperation. The investigation team is still waiting on lab work for the ballistic information and DNA — both of which are vital to the investigation, he said, adding the investigation report and any subsequent documents will not be released until the investigation has been finalized and submitted to the prosecutor’s office for review.
“Please know that waiting for the lab information to come to us is out of our control and frustrating for us, as well,” Drever said. VIIT has reached out to the Washington State Patrol lab for an updated timeline.
Initiative 940 was approved by state voters and later slightly amended by the state Legislature during the 2019 session. It requires use-of-force cases to pass a bar where other officers in the same circumstances would have believed deadly force was necessary.
Marvin Phelps said under I-940, the family was supposed to be assigned a liaison, and that has not happened yet. However, I-940 legislation, known as the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act (LETCSA), was not enacted until January 2020, Drever said.
While the incident with Malik Williams occurred in 2019 and does not fall under the LETCSA legislation, Drever said the VIIT and Federal Way are trying to honor the intent and transparency of the legislation by following the rules of LETCSA by having a liaison in repeated contact with the family to provide updates. Investigators have met with the family to view video footage with them and answer as many of their questions as possible regarding the ongoing investigation.
The family has not received the Federal Way police report of the incident, the VIIT investigation report from Des Moines Police Department (which is leading the investigation), nor the autopsy report, nor the hospital reports from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, Phelps said.
Malik Williams’ family is requesting to receive all of the reports within the next 30 days, or a written explanation for why they have not yet received any information about his death, Phelps said.
The family has made multiple public disclosure requests for the investigative files and each request has been denied because of the status of the open investigation.
According to VIIT, the family has been provided an explanation regarding the denial of their requests for records both verbally and in writing. The autopsy report has also been released to the family, Drever said.
According to the autopsy report, Malik Williams was shot three times, with direction of fire from slightly front to back on his right side, Drever said. Gunshot wounds were found on the right side of his head, once in the upper right arm/shoulder, and once in the upper right arm.
Family members and supporters also want Gov. Jay Inslee to ensure an independent investigation is completed, similar to the action taken by the state for the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man whose final words were “I can’t breathe” before he was killed by Tacoma police on March 3, according to The News Tribune.
“What makes his case different from this case?” Phelps said. “Malik was shot three months before [the Manuel Ellis case]. So why is my son’s case not getting [anywhere]? We’re hurt right now.”
The looming uncertainty of the Valley Independent Investigations Team and the unknowns of his death are what is most upsetting, said Williams’ sister, Monique Phelps.
“We just wanted the answers, and it never came. That’s why we’re doubting everything that was told to us,” she said, adding that the family has only received bits and pieces of limited information. “So at this point, we definitely want justice now.”
The Federal Way Police Department declined to comment for this story due to the active investigation.
Federal Way protest
Sunday’s crowd turnout was more than she expected, said 21-year-old Monique Phelps, who has also been participating in protests in other cities to raise awareness of her brother’s case. Legal Observers of the National Lawyers Guild also remained on the outskirts of the Sunday afternoon protest on standby for any potential civilian interactions with police.
Monique Phelps said she believes fear and hate are what drove the officers to pull their guns on her brother.
“It wasn’t because the scene wasn’t safe, it wasn’t because the disturbance call was called, it wasn’t that,” she said. “There was bias and there was fear and there was hatred in all of those officers’ hearts.”
Monique Phelps said she is heartbroken because Williams’ life could have been saved if more people had basic empathy, or understanding of human decency.
“There’s none of that,” she said. “They [the officers] are waking up in the morning, kissing their children, kissing their spouses, but they’re not decent people … Did my brother have to scream out that he’s disabled for somebody to give him a little bit of human decency?” she said before tears fell down her face. “I’m more convinced that it’s my brother’s skin.”
Contessa Williams, Malik Williams’ mother, said she remains free of animosity in her search for answers of her son’s death. Malik Williams was her second eldest child.
“They’re humans as well,” she said of the officers. “And they’re doing their jobs. I just need to know from their side what happened and what they were feeling as well … I just want some basic answers.”
Loved ones shared stories of Malik Williams throughout the two-and-a-half hour protest. Williams had just received Section 8 housing. He was planning to attend trade school and become a welder to make wheelchairs for people with disabilities to play sports. He played on a Special Olympics basketball team after becoming a paraplegic at age 14.
He was a songwriter and a rapper, and when family members played a recording of one of his final songs, the crowd stood in silence as if Williams was performing.
“This boy had a dream,” said Willard Jimerson Jr, director of Education and Youth Development at Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.
“Those goals and desires that he wanted to accomplish were cut short because he was assassinated by a white supremacist, racist system that continues to be in place — it’s not just here in the city of Federal Way, it’s throughout this entire country,” Jimerson said.
The Mirror previously reported Malik Williams was charged with first-degree robbery after robbing two people at gunpoint on separate incidents at the Renton Transit Center in April 2018. 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 and said he was given a third chance in 2017 when he allegedly shot himself and went to jail for carrying a firearm.
The protest began in the City Hall parking lot, then the crowd slowly migrated to face the glass-walled building, waving “Justice for Malik Williams” signs in front of the security cameras.
Chants of “Who we here for? Malik Williams,” “86 shots? Why?,” and “hands up, don’t shoot” rang out during the afternoon.
There were no visible officers on site during the protest.
“The Federal Way Police Department was so eager to kill and assassinate another Black man that they essentially was in a shootout amongst themselves,” Jimerson said. “They shot themselves.”
Black and brown people are familiar with the pain of police brutality and injustice because it visits their lives too often, Jimerson said.
“This kind of pain knows our address, this system knows us,” he said. “It knows your address and it knows your phone number, so when it calls and it can’t get in contact with you, it’ll show up to your doorstep.”
So when it showed up on their doorstep in the form of Malik Williams’ death, Jimerson said, the pain was real, palpable and not a surprise.
Malik Williams should be alive today, he said.
“He has died from a preventable cause of death,” he said. “You do not have to die from being shot and killed in the streets. That is a preventable cause of death.”
Per the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, Williams died from multiple gunshot wounds and his death was ruled a homicide.
Founder Andre Taylor of Not This Time, a community organization focused on reducing fatal police shootings, said he is going to personally bring Williams’ case to the attention of Gov. Jay Inslee to spark additional action.
The Sunday protest also served as a rallying cry for bigger demonstrations in the near future.
“What are you willing to do to create the change that is necessary?” Jimerson said. “How do we go beyond standing in front of the Federal Way police station and changing this entire community in terms of the system and the rules and the regulations and the policies that impact this community?”
The next “Justice for Malik Williams” protest and march is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, July 13, at the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia.