Lives Forever Changed: The PoLice Murder of Charleena Lyles

Tiny - Posted on 16 June 2018

Lisa Ganser, Idriss Stelley Foundation, Olympia Copwatch



[image description:  sweet photo of 30 year old Black Loved One Charleena Lyles smiling and wearing intricate hoop earrings, she has long eyelashes and is wearing lip gloss and a hat.  Photo courtesy Katrina Johnson]


Black, Disabled, Mother, Sister, Lover, Cousin, Daughter, Niece, Neighbor, friend, Poverty Scholar, and Loved One, Charleena Lyles, called 911 for assistance from her Seattle/Duwamish home on June 18th, 2017. Charleena had survived many things in her lifetime, including intergenerational racism, domestic violence, and the criminalization of being on the radar of CPS (“child protective services”). She loved and nurtured her four children, one of whom is Disabled, with Down Syndrome. Charleena navigated Poverty and struggled to find affordable housing for her family, having never truly felt safe at the Brettler Family Place apartment where she resided. When white poLice officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson showed up to Charleena’s apartment in response to her call for help, they misused information about her, which they could have used to support her. Those kops knew she had mental illness and that she was a trauma survivor, they knew there were children there, they knew Charleena was their protector. Instead of providing care, access support, or the help that Charleena requested, Seattle poLice officers McNew and Anderson shot Charleena Lyles seven times, violently killing her in front of her children, whose lives are forever changed.


“We never called her Charleena,” says Charleena’s cousin Katrina Johnson. Katrina is one of a group of young Black Matriarchs at the center of this justice struggle, including Charleena’s sisters Monika Williams and Tiffany Rogers. Katrina explains that Charleena’s name is pronounced with a hard CH (not “sh”): “It’s CHarleena like charcoal,” she says. “And for us, it was always Leena, or Leena Boo. She was the life of the party. She was lively. She always had this huge smile on her face. She was very giving, so like if it was her last, she would give it to somebody, regardless of if she had anything left. Above all of that, she was a Mom. Leena loved her kids,” says Katrina.  


Katrina continues, “We used to run around together, do stuff, hang out at Crossroads Mall in Bellevue when we all lived out there. She lived with my Grandma and we lived with my stepdad.  We used to go down to the community center out there. She loved listening to music and going dancing. Those are some of the things that I'll always remember.”


Calling poLice into your home should not result in your own death.


“My first cousin Leena called for help, to report a burglary, and instead of getting the help that she needed, she took seven bullets to her one hundred pound frame, in front of three of her four Kids. Her youngest Son laid in a pool of her blood. That’s what I think happened to her. That’s what the medical examiner told me. I believe my cousin was murdered. I believe they did not have to use deadly force. I believe that the killing of mentally ill people has gone on for far too long. It is time for some things to change,” says Katrina.


Charleena had called poLice in the past, to report assaults she had survived. She repeatedly had asked kops, kourts and The System for survival assistance. She followed through on filing restraining orders. “I feel so scared for my safety, and I just got out of the hospital from having our 6-days-old baby boy, and I had a c-section. I think he ripped my stitches open,” Charleena wrote in a petition for an order for protection.


But the poLice criminalized her instead of supporting her. In response to a recent domestic violence call, in early June 2017, Seattle poLice actually ended up arresting Charleena, and then flagged her address - and her - as being problematic, instead of in need of access support or de-escalating. Charleena was jailed for two weeks, then diverted to mental health kourt after that arrest. She was released literally four days before Seattle poLice returned to her apartment and killed her, using previous documentation of their interactions as justification for using deadly force.


Months after her killing, an “investigation” into Charleena’s death found that her killing was “justified,” and that the Use of Force followed the training, that poLice “feared for their lives.” The System protected the poLice, instead of Charleena, and blamed Charleena for her own death. Neither of the poLice officers that killed her would be held accountable.


[image description:  Charleena and one of her kids are blowing kisses to the camera, this is a selfie taken by Black Loved One lost to poLice violence, Charleena.  Photo courtesy of Katrina Johnson.]


Lies and inconsistencies in the ever-changing poLice narrative.


“It makes me wonder, what lengths will the poLice go to?” asks Katrina Johnson. “The poLice said that Charleena had not left her house 24 hours before her killing. I know for a fact that was a lie, because her sister Monika had a birthday party in the park for her daughter. Charleena and all of the kids were there, and our family was there,” said Katrina.  


Katrina continues, “I know that when the family was shown the footage, I know they kept saying that a person walking down the hallway was Charleena, but it was not, that was her daughter. So, that was a lie. I know that the time stamps did not line up, so it was like pieces of the tape were missing, and they couldn’t explain to us why. They STILL haven’t explained that to us. We are still waiting for a response, and that was probably seven months ago that we asked about that.”


The poLice claimed that Charleena had a number of knives, though they never said “put down the knife,” at any time on the audio from her killing. “I still don’t understand the whole knife thing,” says Katrina. “I do not, and my family does not believe that she actually held a knife. I’ve never seen an officer, dealing with a person with a weapon, that never says ‘put down your weapon.’ So that leads me to believe, since he never said that, that she never had one. You know I asked the medical examiner, and people like that, if it was possible, since they found a knife in her pocket, is it possible for her to have had the knife out and then put it in her pocket?  And he said ‘No, that wasn’t possible.’”


The poLice reported that there was also one knife found by the door. “The other knives were in the kitchen,” says Katrina. “I’m not sure where anybody else keeps their knives, but I keep mine in the kitchen.”  


“We are talking about two 250-pound-plus men, one five foot three one hundred-pound Woman, and a little steak knife, even if she had one, and these guys have on bullet proof vests and all that… I’m still trying to figure out, how does this happen? Even if she had a knife, which we do not believe, it still doesn’t make any sense. In the poLice officers’ report, he said ‘I had an out. I could have left. But I was worried about the kids,’” says Katrina.


“If that officer was ‘worried about the safety of the kids,’ how is it possible that BULLETS were going to help the safety of the kids? I mean, I’m no rocket scientist, but I do have a degree. And this just does not make any sense. Knife or not,” says Katrina.

[image description: in pink sidewalk chalk and hearts are written REST IN POWER Charleena Lyles, Leena, Leena Boo.  there are flowers and petals in the hearts. Photo POOR Magazine]


[image description:  outside Charleena’s apartment, a huge daytime vigil is held.  There are children and adults there, candles, flowers, photos of Charleena and notes written by community members.  There’s a poster with a drawing of Charleena that says CHARLEENA LYLES, #sayhername Black Disabled Lives Matter, Black Mothers Lives Matter.  Photo POOR Magazine]


Her family is still reeling from the loss, and can’t rest until there is justice.


[image description:  selfie of Black Loved One lost to poLice violence, Charleena Lyles, her hair is black, straight and long with bangs that graze her eyelids.  Photo courtesy Katrina Johnson]


“Many of us are still numb. Half of us are in disbelief. Some of us can’t even grieve because we’re still fighting for justice,” says Katrina. “We are still so worried - okay, what’s happening with the kids, what is this going to look like. I mean, we just haven’t had time to grieve. We are highly traumatized right now.”


“I know for me, I have to keep going. I cannot rest until I get some sort of justice,” she continues. “And the justice is not going to come in the form that the officers are going to pay or go to jail. Because, I was told, even before the investigation was over, that that wasn’t going to happen.  That no officer would be charged with her killing. So, getting justice for me is getting accountability, getting laws changed, so that other people aren’t dying in egregious ways, the way that my cousin was killed.”


“People with mental health issues, or people that are in a mental health crisis, should not be condemned to their death because they have crisis. If you are not equipped to handle people that are in the middle of a crisis, then you should stand down, until you can find a better way, instead of putting bullets in people. My cousin deserved to BE ALIVE. WE MISS HER. Our lives are all forever changed.  None of us will ever be the same again. Seattle will never be the same, because of what happened to her. It wasn’t just our family that lost somebody, it’s a whole community lost somebody that day.”


[image description: nighttime vigil for Charleena Lyles, there are dozens of candles lit and many flowers and petals are lovingly placed around a portrait of her, outside her home where she was killed by Seattle poLice.]


{image description:  a sweet snapshot of smiling Momma Charleena Lyles and her daughter.  They are wearing summer attire, there’s a children’s stroller in the foreground, and the big blue sky is behind them.]


After a long tiring battle of the surviving Black Women in Charleena’s inner circle fighting to protect her kids, Katrina reports with gratitude that Charleena’s children are doing well right now.  “All four of them are together. That’s what their Mom wanted, was to always have her kids together."


Black siblings, their lives forever impacted with the violent loss of their 30 year old Mother.  As a part of the poLice investigating themselves, after her death, Charleena’s body was tested for drugs and alcohol, and her body was drug and alcohol free.  One of the seven bullets that riddled her body, entered her uterus and grazed her unborn fetus.




Please join the family, friends and community of Charleena Lyles on Monday, June 18, 2018, for a public gathering in honor of her life, from 3-8pm at Warren G. Magnuson Park, 7400 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

The Charleena Lyles One Year Remembrance, Reflection and Healing

will host spoken word, offerings and performances. Please attend and bring love.

facebook event link:


Please visit the Sins Invalid’s Disability Justice Statement on Police Violence in Memory of Charleena Lyles, including a free download of the Charleena Lyles charcoal portrait poster by Vilissa K. Thompson, Cyree Jarelle Johnson, and Micah Bazant:











SAY HER NAME #sayhername CHARLEENA LYLES #charleenalyles


This article is being written on June 12, 2018, the 17th angelversary of the death of Black, Disabled, Loved One, Idriss Stelley, who was killed by SFPD in a bipolar manic episode.  La Mesha Irizarry is Idriss’ Mother, and is the catalyst for me to write these articles.


Lisa Ganser is a white Disabled genderqueer artist and activist living in Olympia, WA on stolen Squaxin, Chehalis and Nisqually land.  They are a sidewalk chalker, a copwatcher, a Poverty Scholar and the Daughter of a Momma named Sam. Lisa is currently on house arrest.

Edited by Nomy Lamm, Sins Invalid.


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