Thirty-year-old Dustin Theoharis in Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, recovering from his twelfth surgery - this one to reconstruct his jaw. It’s unlikely he will ever fully recover from the barrage of bullets fired by police on Feb. 11, 2011. His attorney, Erik Heipt said that Theoharis suffered "a broken shoulder, 2 broken arms, broken legs, he had a compression fracture to his spine, damage to his liver and spleen.”
Theoharis wasn't the guy police were after. The King County Sheriff's deputy and Washington Department of Corrections officer who shot him were at the house to arrest a man who’d violated his parole. But in a search of the house after the shooting, they surprised Theoharis in the basement room he was renting.
Cole Harrison, who was at the house, described it this way: "They (the officers) rushed into that room like they were going to get somebody. I mean they rushed down there and then all of a sudden. Boom, boom, boom, boom.”
It’s estimated that the two officers fired more than 20 bullets; 16 hit Theoharis, who was lying in bed. The officers said they thought Theoharis was reaching for a gun. They later told investigators they weren’t sure how many bullets they fired.
"I thought he was going to try to kill us, there is no greater level of threat,” King County Deputy Aaron Thompson told investigators during an interview months after the shooting.
Theoharis didn’t have any weapons, but both the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Corrections ruled the shooting justified and in compliance with policy.
Last month King County agreed to pay Theoharis $3 million to avoid litigation. Attorneys for Theoharis said Wednesday they filed a $20 million claim against the State Department of Corrections for their role in the shooting.
This just as a critical report has been released that questions how the officers wound up in a situation where they felt compelled to use deadly force and how the follow-up investigation was handled.
The review was presented to the King County Council at a special briefing Tuesday morning.
The review was requested by Charles Gaither, the new civilian watchdog of the Sheriff's Office and was done by police accountability expert Merrick Bobb, the same man who is monitoring court ordered reforms of the Seattle Police Department. Bobb’s non-profit agency, Police Assessment Resource Center, was paid $24,999 for the review, which took months.
The review states that Theoharis's case "highlights significant weaknesses in existing policies and practices regarding deadly force investigations.”
The review notes that the officers who shot Theoharis refused to be interviewed at the scene.
Deputy Aaron Thompson did provide a written statement a month later, after he'd had the opportunity to discuss the case with fellow officers at a debriefing, according to the review.
Under the current guild contract, officers can request a delay of up to 72 hours to provide a written statement. The review states, “Although that delay itself is problematic, KCSO nonetheless should have issued the order the evening of the shooting so as to obtain the evidence as soon as possible.”
The review also questioned why no one from the Internal Investigations Unit (IIU) came to the shooting and why IIU did not open an investigation for six months even though Theoharis clearly felt that the shooting was unjustified when it happened.
The report, also suggests that the Sheriff’s Office was more concerned about advocating for its officers than getting to the bottom of what happened in its follow up investigations. The reviewers said that there was an apparent conflict of interest with the first responding sergeant who took control of the crime scene, later switching roles from supervisor and neutral party to officer advocate. The same sergeant later served as one of the deputy’s two guild representatives in an interview with Internal Investigations Unit.
However the review does credit the King County Sheriff’s Office with taking action to change policies and procedures in the aftermath of the shooting.
Sheriff John Urquhart told the King County Council at the Tuesday’s briefing that he is negotiating with the guild to change the 72 hour rule for providing statements following an officer involved shooting. Urquhart said he has already put in place a major change that allows Internal Investigations to begin an administrative investigation, looking into possible policy violations and alleged misconduct, concurrently with the criminal investigation.
The review criticized the criminal investigation by the Major Crimes Unit of the King County Sheriff’s Office, saying that evidence was overlooked, shell casings moved and the crime scene video wasn't dated and wasn't shot continuously making it difficult to decipher.
Sheriff Urquhart, who took office after it happened, recently apologized personally to Theoharis, but concedes he can't make up for what was lost.
"It was very very sad. We can't ever make him whole, we can't ever bring him back to the man he was and that's a shame. I felt horrible,” Urquhart said.
The Department of Corrections issued the following statement in regard to the $20 million claim filed by Dustin Theoharis:
“We have already conducted a thorough review and determined that the specialist used appropriate force and followed the proper procedures in a dangerous situation. We will wait until after the claim is resolved to discuss specific details.”