A King County Sheriff's deputy who was the subject of a KING 5 Investigation about his frequent use of force is again in the spotlight over an incident last month in Federal Way.
The deputy, Matt Paul, was told two years ago that his performance was unsatisfactory and that he needed to treat citizens and suspects with more respect. In 2009, Paul slammed an innocent man into a wall in downtown Seattle, leaving the man -- Chris Harris-- brain damaged. King County initially settled with Harris for $10 million, but later paid an additional $1.47 million after a judge sanctioned the county for withholding key documents about Deputy Paul’s history of using excessive force.
King County promised to overhaul its Sheriff's Office in 2006. But in 2012, reports by county auditors and a team of outside police experts found serious lapses, including lax oversight, failure to investigate complaints and a tolerance of deputy misconduct.
Questionable use of force by Paul and other King County deputies inspired Sheriff John Urquhart to make accountability a key plank in his 2012 campaign for the office.
The latest incident occurred on Sept. 24 when Paul confronted Justin Cap, 27, after Cap returned home from a short trip to a Federal Way convenience store. Paul is accused of slamming Cap to the ground then ordering a witness -- Cap's mother -- to turn over a phone she had used to video record the scene.
After pulling up to his house and exiting his car, Cap said he found himself being physically detained by Paul.
"He had grabbed my left arm, extended it away from my body slammed me down ...," Cap said. "And I lifted my body up, because he didn't say anything about being arrested, being detained, when I lifted my body up, he puts me in a choke hold and turns me around ... and throws me to the ground."
Cap's mother, Kim, said the confrontation unfolded quickly: "He (Paul) got out of his car and ran straight at Justin, almost like a wrestling move."
Justin said Paul "put his forearm on the back of my head, put all of his weight. I lifted up and he slammed it on the ground, and then I lifted it up and he slammed it on the ground."
His mother said the force Paul used "was hard enough that you could actually hear the thump ... like a piece of wood hitting the concrete."
During all this, Kim had her phone out and was recording video.
After a second deputy arrived on scene and Justin was arrested for reckless driving, Deputy Paul confronted Kim.
"He said, 'I need your phone, you need to give over your phone,'" Kim said. "I said, 'No, I don't.' He said, 'Yes you do. You have evidence.'"
"It was very threatening how he came across. ... I didn't know what he was going to do," Kim said.
Paul demanded to see the video Kim had recorded on her phone, insisting that the video captured a threat made by Justin during the arrest. In his official report, Paul wrote that during the arrest Justin had said "he wished he had his gun because it would be a different story."
Justin Cap denies Paul's version. "I never once said that. And that's why I wished we could get the tape too, the video," he said.
When Paul demanded to see the video, Kim said she try to play it, then asked to go inside. Kim said she tried to forward the video to her computer, but the e-mail didn't go through and that she wound up deleting the video.
At that point, she said, Paul became very angry.
"He literally grabbed the phone, he snagged it out of my hand," Kim said.
But when Paul grabbed the phone, he didn't know that Kim had pulled up her attorney’s number. At some point, the phone dialed and the call went through, capturing the interaction between Paul and Kim on the attorney’s automatic answering service.
The audio details an escalating confrontation as Paul attempted to arrest Kim for deleting evidence.
Paul can be heard ordering Kim to put her hands behind her back. When Kim explains that the video Paul wants to see was deleted, his anger grows.
"You deleted it from your phone because you knew on that video, you heard it just as much as I did, that your son threatened to kill me if he has his gun," Paul says.
He then unlooses a stream of profanities at Kim: "You should have thought about that before you went (expletive) around, now turn around put your hands behind your back, you're under arrest." Later, he says: "You lost that (expletive) privilege when you went sideways from deleting (expletive) ... You're going to end up like your (expletive) son on the ground. Put your hands behind your back. Right now. Quit (expletive) around. I'm done talking to you."
Kim Cap ultimately complied with Paul's order. She was arrested and her phone was seized.
After hearing the audio of the confrontation, Cap’s attorney sent a letter to the King County Sheriff’s Office alleging that Paul "assaulted, falsely arrested and imprisoned" his client and seized her phone "without cause."
The letter prompted the Sheriff Urquhart to order an investigation to determine if there was misconduct by Deputy Paul. Urquhart said the deputy probably had the right to seize Kim's phone, but after hearing the audio recorded by the attorney he said “this incident is not the kind of policing that I stand for." Urquhart also said the audio recording does not reflect the kind of professionalism he expects from deputies.
Urquhart added, "I have not dealt with Matt Paul since I have been the Sheriff. This is the first time I have dealt with him and I will deal with him."
As of October 15, no charges have been filed against Kim or Justin Cap. Justin Cap admits that he was driving with a suspended license on the day Paul arrested him. And he is no stranger to law enforcement. He has been arrested a number of times for crimes ranging from taking a motor vehicle without permission to theft.
Paul spoke with this reporter on Monday and denied having a problem with excessive force, noting that no complaint of such behavior has ever been sustained against him. “I don’t want to be portrayed as some bully because it’s the farthest thing from the truth,” he said.
Paul declined to discuss the incident in detail because it remains under investigation. But he said he would not have arrested Kim Cap without cause. He also defended his use of profanity, saying it can be an effective attention getter.
Paul remains on duty and is assigned to patrol in southeastern King County.