Outside review criticizes police shooting of innocent man

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on July 10, 2013 at 5:11 AM

Thirty-year-old Dustin Theoharis has just finished his 12th surgery--this one to reconstruct his jaw. It’s unlikely he will ever fully recover from the barrage of bullets fired by police on Feb. 11, 2011. His attorney, Erik Heipt said that Theoharis suffered "a broken shoulder, 2 broken arms, broken legs, he had a compression fracture to his spine, damage to his liver and spleen.” 
 
Theoharis wasn't the guy police were after. The King County Sheriff's Deputy and Washington Department of Corrections Officer who shot him were at the house to arrest a man who’d violated his parole. But in a search of the house after the shooting, they surprised Theoharis, in the basement room he was renting.
 
Cole Harrison, who was at the house, described it this way:  "They (the officers) rushed into that room like they were going to get somebody. I mean they rushed down there and then all of a sudden. Boom, boom, boom, boom.” 
 
It’s estimated that the two officers fired more than 20 bullets; 16 hit Theoharis, who was lying in bed. The officers said they thought Theoharis was reaching for a gun. They later told investigators they weren’t sure how many bullets they fired. 
 
"I thought he was going to try to kill us, there is no greater level of threat,” King County Deputy Aaron Thompson told investigators during an interview months after the shooting. 
 
Theoharis didn’t have any weapons, but both the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Corrections ruled the shooting justified and in compliance with policy. 
 
But now, a year and a half later, a critical report is coming out that questions how the officers wound up in a situation where they felt compelled to use deadly force and whether the Sheriff's Office was more concerned about advocating for its officers than getting to the bottom of what happened in its follow up investigations.
 
KING 5 News obtained the 66 page review of the officer involved shooting which will be presented to the King County Council on Tuesday morning.
 
The review was requested by Charles Gaither, the new civilian watchdog of the Sheriff's Office and was done by police accountability expert, Merrick Bobb, the same man who is monitoring court ordered reforms of the Seattle Police Department.
 
The review says that Theoharis's case "highlights significant weaknesses in existing policies and practices regarding deadly force investigations and review."
 
The review notes that the officers who shot Theoharis refused to be interviewed at the scene.
 
After being ordered to do so, Deputy Aaron Thompson gave a statement, but it was a month later, after he'd had the opportunity to discuss the case with fellow officers at a debriefing, according to the report.
 
The review was also questioned why no one from the Internal Investigations Unit (IIU) came to the shooting and why IIU did not open an investigation for six months even though Theoharis clearly felt that the shooting was unjustified when it happened. 
 
The review criticized the criminal investigation by the Major Crimes Unit of the King County Sheriff’s Office, saying that evidence was overlooked, shell casings moved and the crime scene video wasn't dated and wasn't shot continuously making it difficult to decipher.
 
However the review does credit the King County Sheriff’s Office with taking action to change policies and procedures in the aftermath of the shooting. 
 
Sheriff Urquhart, who took office after it happened, recently apologized personally to Theoharis, but concedes he can't make up for what was lost.
 
"It was very very sad.  We can't ever make him whole, we can't ever bring him back to the man he was and that's a shame, I felt horrible,” Urquhart said. 
 
Last month king county agreed to pay Theoharis $ 3 million dollars to avoid litigation.  
His attorneys say they are still considering a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections. 

 

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