An unarmed Washington state man who was shot 16 times by law enforcement last year has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Department of Corrections.
In February 2012, police executed a search warrant on the Auburn home where Dustin Theoharis was renting a basement room. Officers were looking for different man -- a convicted felon who had violated parole -- and after successfully apprehending him proceeded to search the home for firearms, according to KING 5.
A King County sheriff's deputy and a Washington State corrections officer reportedly found Theoharis in bed and opened fire on him after he reached for what they thought was a gun.
According to a separate KING 5 report, Cole Harrison, a man who was at the house during the incident, said that the officers had "rushed into that room like they were going to get somebody."
Attorney Erik Heipt said Theoharis suffered numerous injuries, including "a broken shoulder, two broken arms, broken legs... a compression fracture to his spine [and] damage to his liver and spleen” as a result of the shooting, the station notes. His jaw was also shattered, to date requiring a dozen surgeries to repair.
Although a Police Assessment Resource Center investigation of the incident concluded that the use of deadly force was "lawful and within [King County Sheriff's Office] policy," the county recently agreed to pay Theoharis $3 million to avoid litigation.
Aside from its estimated cost to taxpayers, the Theoharis case is also making political waves, sowing discord between state law enforcement agencies. According to the Seattle Times, the incident sparked public demand for changes to Sheriff's Office policies but strained the relationship between that agency and the Department of Corrections.
Uproar over the Theoharis shooting led the KCSO to tighten its oversight of a long-running partnership with the DOC that targets gang-related and high-impact offenders. After the DOC officer involved in the shooting refused to comply with the KSCO's review board, Sheriff John Urquhart, who was not in charge at the time of the Theoharis shooting, opted to suspend some joint operations between the agencies indefinitely.
Despite the political cost, Urquhart remains a proponent of change. Q13 Fox reports that the sheriff, who campaigned on updating KCSO policies, has implemented high-tech shooting simulators and pushed for internal investigations to take place concurrently with criminal investigations in the event of officer-involved shootings.
“The issue isn’t whether we are reviewing shootings and use-of-force by deputies, because we are,” Urquhart told the Seattle City Council when it met recently to reviewed a critical report on the aftermath of the shooting. “The issue is, are we doing a good job of it? And I don’t think we have in the past, so we need to fix that and we’re fixing that.”
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