The actions of a sheriff's deputy who slammed a mistakenly identified man into a wall during a May 10 foot chase in Belltown — inflicting life-threatening injuries — do not appear to be criminal, the King County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.
A lawyer for the man's family immediately questioned the finding, saying the deputy dealt a "bone-crushing" hit that has left Christopher Harris, a 29-year-old restaurant worker, in critical condition in a coma.
Harris, of Edmonds, suffered severe head injuries when he was knocked into the outside wall of a Belltown theater at the end of the brief chase after he was mistakenly tied to an assault.
"We look at this as a tragic accident; nothing more than that," sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said at a sidewalk news briefing where the chase began.
Urquhart said an investigation by the Sheriff's Office found that the deputy, Matthew Paul, 26, gave Harris a "hard shove" that apparently fell within legal boundaries. But the case will be forwarded to the King County Prosecutor's Office to determine whether criminal charges are warranted, he said.
An internal investigation will determine whether Paul violated department policies, said Urquhart, who also released three surveillance videos of the incident.
Sim Osborn, a Seattle attorney hired by Harris' family, disputed Urquhart's characterization of the takedown of Harris.
"It was a bone-crushing hit," Osborn said, likening it to a linebacker's hit on a football field. He called the deputy's action "horribly brutal" at best and potentially a criminal assault.
Paul slammed Harris on his left side, one video shows, driving his head into a turquoise-colored tile wall on the east side of the Cinerama Theater at Fourth Avenue and Lenora Street. Harris has not regained consciousness since the incident, according to his stepfather, Todd Keeling, of Mountlake Terrace.
Urquhart said the deputy, who was joined in the chase by another deputy, acted within normal rules for a foot pursuit. He said Harris appeared to be "running out of steam" when the takedown occurred.
Osborn said the deputies should have considered other actions, such as using a Taser on Harris, pulling a weapon on him or holding him at bay.
The deputy who slammed Harris outweighed him by more than 100 pounds and knocked Harris about eight feet, Osborn said.
Osborn said there is "conflicting testimony" over whether the deputies identified themselves at the outset but added that both were wearing dark tactical uniforms in dark conditions.
Osborn said two witnesses said they only heard the deputies yell toward the end of the chase "stop him" and "he stole something," to which Harris replied, "I don't have anything. I didn't take anything."
The incident occurred while the deputies, who were assigned to Metro Transit, were working the graveyard shift patrolling downtown bus routes.
At about 1 a.m., they received a report of a disturbance at a bar at Second Avenue and Bell Street involving broken bottles and a fight, Urquhart said.
Shortly after, a bloodied man ran into a nearby convenience store, chased by other men with blood on them, Urquhart said. The chase then continued outside the store.
Two women in the area told the deputies they thought a stabbing or robbery had occurred, Urquhart said.
One of the women led the deputies to Blanchard Street, between Second and Third avenues, and when Harris appeared across the street, she identified him as being involved in the assault, Urquhart said.
The deputies reported that Harris had a look in his eyes as if he were going to run, and then pulled a hood up over his head and took off, Urquhart said.
The deputies shouted for him to stop, identifying themselves as police, Urquhart said.
Detectives later determined Harris was not part of the bar altercation; those involved were never found.
Urquhart said investigators don't know why Harris ran, but they noted that four witnesses, including the woman who misidentified Harris, said they heard the deputies repeatedly yell "stop, police" or "police officers."
"Sometimes bad things happen to good people," Urquhart said. "That's what happened in this case."
Harris, who grew up in Seattle and Olympia and attended the Seattle Art Institute, was married about a year ago, according to his stepfather. Harris worked as a server at Arnies Restaurant in Edmonds.
Shortly after the incident, Harris was listed in critical condition with skull fractures at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. His condition improved to serious soon after but worsened to critical earlier this week.
Urquhart said that on the night of the incident, Harris got off work about 10 p.m. and had a drink at Arnies. Harris then went to another bar nearby, had a couple of drinks and then paid someone $60 in gas money to drive him to Belltown, where he departed on his own, Urquhart said.
Investigators found a screwdriver in his pocket, and his wallet was missing but was later found.
A surveillance camera outside the Cinerama captured video footage of Harris being slammed into the wall. Paul, immediately after bringing Harris down, pulled Harris by his arm and onto his stomach. Urquhart said Paul stopped handcuffing Harris when he saw the extent of the injuries, and medics were called.
The Cinerama video was released Thursday, along with video footage from surveillance cameras at the convenience store and the Jewish Federation building at Third Avenue and Lenora Street. The camera at the Jewish Federation captured part of the chase.
Paul was placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation. He could be returned to duty at any time, Urquhart said.
Sheriff Sue Rahr has asked Seattle police to review the investigation once it is completed to ensure it was thorough and without bias.Local News | Sheriff rules deputy's "hard shove" in chase wasn't criminal | Seattle Times Newspaper