Concerns about deputy's use of force raised years ago

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 10:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 8:22 AM

SEATTLE -- This is the Chris Harris his family misses — swimming with his younger brother.
  
"He just lived life to the fullest,” said his mother, Sharla Keeling.
   
Time in the kitchen trying new recipes.

"He used to love to eat and cook and eat and he can't do that. He's on a feeding tube," said Keeling.

Chris often exercised with his mother, encouraging her to work harder. Now he can’t even turn over by himself.

Chris and his wife Sarah were hoping to start a family.

“When we're not in the room, we have a baby monitor to watch him," said his uncle, Steve Harris.

The blow that altered Chris’s life was caught on surveillance cameras.

“I will never until the day I die get that [video] out of my head,” said Keeling.

"I see a wonderful person dying,” said Harris. "The person we knew is no longer here."

Chris had been wrongly identified as a suspect. But when police came after him he ran.
His mother says she doesn’t think Chris knew who was coming after him.

“It’s one something in the morning,” she said. “You have two big guys in Belltown, they don’t identify themselves. Anybody would run. I would run, you would run.”

It was King County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Paul who ended the chase with a near fatal body slam.  Harris hit the wall of a nearby theater so hard, his brain was seriously permanently damaged.

Sheriff’s response
   
Was the force excessive? King County Sheriff Sue Rahr said no.

"We've debated this a lot -- what could he [Paul] have done differently? We don't have an answer," Rahr said.

But the Sheriff didn’t do the internal investigation or get the outside review she’d promised immediately after the Harris incident in May 2009. And she didn’t take a close look at her deputy.
     
By pouring through thousands of internal documents, the KING 5 Investigators identified a pattern of unnecessary force and questionable tactics, before and after the Harris incident.

Family’s reaction

The Harris family said they had given up on an investigation ever happening after waiting for two years. 

"What we have known for a long time that we wanted out there, for people to know, that this guy is a thug, and the Sheriff’s department is covering up for him," said Harris.

But the Harris' aren't the only people we heard from after our first stories aired on Deputy Matt Paul earlier in May. We heard from police officers too.

Early warning signs
   
One tip led us to the Basic Law Enforcement Academy in Burien where warnings about Deputy Paul surfaced years ago. 

In 2007, Deputy Paul was being paid to help out part-time at the academy with defensive tactics training. It can get physical, but Paul was considered too rough and aggressive even by police standards.

One Tacoma Police officer said she felt the brunt of Matt Paul's force during a mock scenario at the training academy.  She says was knocked down, then Paul fell on top of her and was choking her with her baton to the point where she nearly passed out. She says an instructor intervened, but not before she was injured.

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 that he "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" said Griffin in the e-mail.

Griffin even extended the red flag to Paul's work on the street as a patrol deputy. 

“If Matt’s behavior is upsetting to us at the BLEA (Basic Law Enforcement Academy) he is likely exhibiting poor behavior to the public or fellow deputies."

Paul’s captain, Scott Kimerer, who was also Chief of the Burien Police Department (a contract city under the Sheriff), responded that he would “counsel him.”

Kimerer also wrote that Paul’s issues at the academy could be seen as an “early warning indicator” that Paul should be monitored down the road.

We asked why Paul wasn’t watched more closely for the next three and a half years.

“I don’t know, I don’t have an answer for you,” said Sgt. John Urquhart, spokesman for the King County Sheriff. The Sheriff was out of town when we requested an interview.

Dropped the ball

Urquhart concedes that the Sheriff’s Office dropped the ball.

“He should have been watched more closely. We should have worked with him more closely. It’s not a question of looking over his shoulder.” Urquhart says. “The question is working with him, mentoring him, training him.”

That mentoring and training is happening now. But only after Paul used force in nineteen cases and racked up seven complaints to Internal Investigations over his five and a half year career. 

We asked, is it time for the Sheriff to cut him loose?

“The Sheriff has said she’s not going to do that,” Urquhart said. “She believes when we do our job properly, he’ll do his job properly.”

To the family still struggling to accept Chris Harris’s fate, there’s only one answer for the deputy who caused it.

“He should not be a police officer, period,” said Sharla Keeling, “He should not be working that way.”

After we brought our findings to the Sheriff earlier this month, she put Matt Paul on a Personal Improvement Plan and sent him to training to improve his communication skills and handling of crisis situations.  She also ordered him to meet regularly with his commanders.

And she’s asked the Renton Police Department to review the Harris case.
 

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