A judge ruled Friday that the King County Sheriff’s Department acted in bad faith when it failed to reveal damaging emails to the family of a man who was left paralyzed by a deputy's actions.
The county has already paid $10 million to the family of Christopher Harris. But after a KING 5 Investigation revealed more troubling information about Deputy Matthew Paul, the family’s attorney’s went back to court seeking $3.3 million more.
On Friday Pierce County Judge Stephanie Arend agreed with Harris's contention and levied a $300,000 penalty against the county, payable to the victim. Arend also said a future hearing will be held to determine if even more damages should be awarded to the family. The case was heard in Pierce County Court to avoid any conflict of interest.
Christopher Sean Harris was permanently disabled after Deputy Paul pushed him into a wall in 2009. A witness incorrectly identified Harris as a suspect in a bar fight in downtown Seattle. Although the county admitted no wrongdoing, it paid Harris’s family $10 million, the largest settlement of its kind in King County.
After that settlement was reached, a KING 5 Investigation uncovered a 2007 email from the commander of the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, where Paul was receiving training. It said Paul exhibited a “macho” attitude, that he was overly aggressive, and that he would not be allowed back to the academy.
The Harris family argued that it should have been told about this part of Deputy Paul’s troubled history before it agreed to the orginal $10 million settlement.
The King County Sheriff’s Office said Deputy Paul did not violate policy when he shoved Harris. However, an audit released earlier this week found serious shortcomings with the Sheriff’s Office review process in use-of-force cases.
After Friday's hearing, King County Sheriff Steve Strachan said he did not believe the county intentionally withheld documents from the Harris family.
Problems with KCSO's handling of use of force incidents were the subject of a KING 5 Investigators series -- "Bully with a Badge."