Email reignites controversy surrounding a deputy's use of force

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on February 16, 2012 at 11:32 AM

SEATTLE -- An e-mail uncovered by KING 5 reignites the controversy over a King County deputy who used so much force he left an innocent man brain damaged.  The e-mail shows red flags were raised years ago about the deputy's use of force.  But the victim's family didn't know it existed. 

 
The video of Chris Harris being slammed into a wall by King County Sheriff's deputy Matt Paul is deeply disturbing.
 
"They took away the greatest person I ever met in my life," said Chris' wife, Sarah.
 
Harris had been wrongly identified as a suspect in a crime.  The mistake was catastrophic. 
 
"He used to love to eat and cook and eat.  He can't do that.  He's on a feeding tube," said Chris' mother, Sharla Keeling. 
 
In January 2011, almost two years after the near fatal blow, King County paid the Harris family $10 million--money they say is going to care for Chris.   
  
Ten million dollars was a record settlement, yet the sheriff defended her deputy.   
 
"There was no evidence of misconduct on the part of Deputy Paul," said King County Sheriff Rahr.
 
But after we obtained Paul's file and discovered 19 use of force cases and 7 citizen complaints the sheriff ordered more training. 
 
"I do believe he can make some different decisions and I we want him to make some different decisions and we're going to do that," said Sheriff Rahr.
 
But the KING 5 Investigators uncovered more than a pattern of questionable force.  We found evidence the sheriff's office was warned years earlier that Paul was too aggressive. 
            
In 2007, while working at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy he was too rough.  The academy commander waved a red flag.  
 
In an internal e-mail obtained by the KING 5 Investigators, Commander Ron Griffin wrote to Paul's bosses at the sheriff's office warning Paul “exhibited behaviors that were a concern and we no longer wished to use him”.
 
The concerns included using force ”far above the norm” and showing a “macho type demeanor not acceptable to our goals.”   Paul's chief flagged it an early warning indicator that the deputy should be monitored. 
 
When questioned why he wasn't watched more closely, then King County Spokesperson Sgt. John Urquhart said he didn't have an answer.
            
It's not the only answer the Harris family is seeking.  They want to know why they had to learn about that e-mail on KING 5. 
 
They've filed new documents with the court, asking for an additional $3.3 million from King County. 
 
In a court motion filed in support of that request, Harris’s attorney Sim Osborn, argued the e-mail is evidence that the sheriff's office "showed deliberate indifference to Deputy Paul's use of excessive force."
 
The King County Sheriff's office told KING 5 that they did not deliberately conceal the email. 
   
King County has hired an outside attorney, Timothy Gosselin, to represent the Sheriff’s office in the new case. Gosselin told KING 5 “we believe there was a very clear and logical reason for why that document (the e-mail) wasn’t turned over.” The Harris family requested Paul's entire file, but Gosselin said “finding the e-mail was like finding a needle in a haystack.”
 
Now it's up to a judge to decide if King County should pay the additional $3.3 million the Harris family is asking for.  A hearing is set for March 8th in Pierce County Superior Court.  

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