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Originally published | Page modified May 22, 2009 at 3:32 AM

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Arrest that left man in critical condition was not criminal, Sheriff's Office says

The actions of a sheriff's deputy who slammed a man into a wall after he had been mistakenly tied to an assault do not appear to be criminal, the King County Sheriff's Office announced this afternoon. A lawyer for the man's family immediately questioned the finding.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Video: Deputy knocks man into wall

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The actions of a sheriff's deputy who slammed a man into a wall after he had been mistakenly tied to an assault do not appear to be criminal, the King County Sheriff's Office announced this afternoon. A lawyer for the man's family immediately questioned the finding.

The man, Christopher Harris, 29, who is in critical condition, suffered life-threatening injuries after he was knocked into the outside wall of a Belltown theater on May 10.

"We look at this as a tragic accident; nothing more than that," said sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart.

Urquhart said an investigation by the Sheriff's Office has found the deputy who knocked Harris into the wall apparently did not commit a criminal act. An internal investigation will determine whether the deputy and a second deputy involved in the chase violated any department policies.

Urquhart said the first deputy gave Harris a "hard push."

The findings of the sheriff's investigation will be forwarded to the King County Prosecutor's Office to make a final determination on whether criminal charges should be filed.

The Sheriff's Office also released three surveillance videos of the incident in which the Edmonds man was injured after he was mistakenly tied to a reported assault and chased by deputies.

Sim Osborn, an attorney hired by Harris' family, disputed Urquhart's characterization of the deputy's takedown of the Edmonds man.

"It was a bone-crushing hit," Osborn said. He likened it to a linebacker hitting somebody and said it was "horribly brutal" at best and potentially a criminal assault.

Harris hit his head against a turquoise-colored tile wall on the east side of the Cinerama Theater at Fourth Avenue and Lenora Street. He has not regained consciousness since the incident, according to his family.

Witnesses have provided conflicting accounts of when the deputies identified themselves to Harris, who ran from them about 1 a.m. after a witness wrongly identified him as a suspect in an earlier assault that began at a bar and spilled into a convenience store at Second Avenue and Bell Street.

As the deputies walked toward the store, a woman approached and said a man had been beaten and stabbed and led them to an alley on Blanchard Street between Second and Third avenues, the Sheriff's Office said.

The woman pointed to a man, identifying him as being involved in the assault, the Sheriff's Office said. The deputies yelled at the man to stop, but he ran, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Detectives later determined Harris was wrongly identified by the witness and the stabbing victim was not found.

Urquhart said today that several witnesses have said the deputies clearly identified themselves to Harris as police several times, including at the start of the pursuit.

Osborn said today it was unclear when deputies identified themselves.

The deputies, who are assigned to Metro Transit, were working the graveyard shift patrolling downtown bus routes and shelters when they received a report of a disturbance.

Harris, who grew up in Seattle and Olympia and attended the Seattle Art Institute, was married about a year ago, according to his stepfather, Todd Keeling of Mountlake Terrace. Harris worked as a server at Arnies Restaurant in Edmonds.

Shortly after the incident, Harris was listed in critical condition with skull fractures at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

His condition improved to serious soon after, but worsened to critical earlier this week.

A surveillance camera outside the Cinerama captured footage of the incident and was one of the videos released today. The other videos came from surveillance cameras from a convenience store at Second Avenue and Bell Street, and the Jewish Federation building at Third Avenue and Lenora Street.

The deputy who knocked Harris down has been identified as Matthew Paul, 26, who was placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation. Paul could be returned to duty at any time, Urquhart said.

The other deputy, Joseph Eshom, 28, was deemed to be a witness and allowed to return to work.

Osborn has previously said that both deputies wore black uniforms and yelled to Harris from a half-block away in a darkened alley.

Sheriff Sue Rahr has asked Seattle police to review the investigation once it is completed to ensure it was thorough and without bias.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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