SEATTLE - Chris Harris had been wrongly identified as a suspect, yet when he ran from police they were the last steps he ever took. Harris was slammed into a wall by a King County deputy. The blow caused severe damage to his brain and spinal cord.
"They took away the greatest person I ever met in my life," said Harris’s wife, Sarah.
The Sheriff’s Office was quick to defend the deputy. “Preliminary conclusion is that our deputy didn’t break any laws from his use of force,” said King County Sheriff's Office spokesman John Urquhart.
Prosecutors agreed. And even after King County paid out $10 million to settle a lawsuit, Sheriff Sue Rahr defended her deputy’s tactics.
“There was no evidence of misconduct on the part of Deputy Paul," she told us.
But the Harris case was so traumatic we decided to take a closer look at the deputy. His name is Matt Paul. He’s 29-years-old and has been with the sheriff’s office for five and a half years.
KING 5 obtained Paul's file through public disclosure and analyzed 2,000 pages of documents spanning his entire career. We found a pattern of frequent force and questionable tactics that needlessly escalated some situations and caused injuries.
We saw red flags early on. When Paul was a rookie his supervisors raised concerns-- about his tendency to rush, to “tunnel in,” to jump on incidents that were already covered.
But Paul liked to be where the action was.
By 2008, he was striking, tasing, and wrestling with suspects; using takedowns, foot sweeps, punches and pepper spray. His supervisors found all of it acceptable under department policy, but warned him to look for alternatives and to avoid arresting people simply because they challenged his authority or weren't respectful.
Paul was transferred to the Metro Transit Unit policing bus routes in April 2009. Buses travel through some high crime areas, so some force is to be expected. But we found Deputy Paul uses force far more often than the average transit deputy---six times more often.
The Chris Harris case in May, 2009 was so disturbing you’d expect it to be a wake-up call for the Sheriff’s Office to keep a close eye on Paul.
But we found a case a full year later, that made us wonder.
Another similar incident
Computer technology consultant Jeff Gold says he was walking home to his apartment in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood when he saw something that made him stop.
"What I saw was two people on a bench in the bus shelter and two officers standing over them haranguing them,” said Gold, who decided to take some pictures. "Probably had taken three or four photos,” Gold said, “and this is the moment the officer became aware of my presence,” showing us a picture.
Gold described the look on the officer’s face as “chilling.”
It was chilling because of what happened next. When Gold turned to go, he jaywalked.
“When I got about halfway across the street I heard this gentleman yell ‘Stop!’ I turned to look at him, kind of 'You're kidding right?'”
That's when Gold admits he made a bad decision - he'd been drinking and he flipped off the deputy, and kept going.
"At which point he took off at a sprint and it looked like a rhinoceros bearing down on me. I was running away from him so he grabbed me from behind and thrust me to the ground and my face smashed into the pavement," Gold said.
The deputy who did the takedown was Matt Paul.
Paul took pictures at the scene showing Gold right after medics showed up and bandaged his nose. The next day, Gold took some pictures of his own.
"And you can't quite tell, but you can see my nose is a little out of kilter here because it's been broken," Gold said. He was arrested for obstructing an officer, but he was never charged. And he didn't learn the name of the deputy until we contacted him.
"It's always been burning in my heart that I haven't pursued this, and then when you called to say you'd been looking into this it was like, unbelievable,” Gold said.
But we had one more surprise for Jeff Gold — tape he’d never seen. We showed him the tape of Deputy Paul slamming Chris Harris into the wall.
"If I had seen this video before I had encountered this gentleman on the street, I'd have run like the blazes," Gold said.
Gold also didn't know that the force used on him was found to be reasonable and within policy.
"The policy for what? In the sense that he didn't break my neck? Within the policy that this is how you treat jaywalkers?” said Gold.
More use of force
After the Gold incident, Paul used force in at least two more cases that raised eyebrows -- and prompted complaints to the Internal Investigations Unit.
We asked the Sheriff if he still belongs on the street.
“I agree with you. Deputy Paul has a lot of 'use of forces' and I am concerned about that,” said Sheriff Rahr. “His supervisors are very aware of how he performs his job and they're watching what he's doing. I can't turn around and fire a deputy because I have concerns. We are trying to work on it."
We hoped to hear Deputy Paul’s side of the story, and at first he said he would talk to us. But after conferring with his commanders, he changed his mind.
Our investigation continues here when we reveal how the Sheriff's Office broke promises and dropped the ball in aftermath of the Harris case -- and again a year later in the case of the jaywalker.