Comatose man's family files $25M claim over brain injury in pursuit by deputy
An attorney representing Chris Harris' wife and parents filed a $25 million claim against King County on Tuesday, accusing a sheriff's deputy of using excessive force against the 29-year-old Edmonds man during a chase in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood in May.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sarah Jorgenson wears her husband's wedding band — which is actually a promise ring she gave him when they were just 16 — on a long chain around her neck.
She spends her days at her husband's bedside, talking to him and reading to him, even though his doctors say he'll never wake up, never recover from the brain injury that's left him comatose since his head slammed into a concrete wall in downtown Seattle after a hard hit by King County sheriff's Deputy Matthew Paul on May 10. Christopher Harris had been wrongly identified as an assault suspect when he ran from Paul and another deputy.
On Tuesday, in a well-lit atrium next to a Fifth Avenue law office, one block from the Cinerama Theatre where Harris was knocked unconscious, Jorgenson's attorney announced that he'd filed a $25 million claim against the county on behalf of Jorgenson and Harris' family.
Attorney Sim Osborn said Harris was not a threat to the deputies and accused Paul of using excessive force by pushing Harris with such force that he was knocked eight feet and into the concrete wall.
Tuesday's filing is a first, mandatory step before the family can file a civil lawsuit for money they say will cover round-the-clock health care for Harris and emotional damages for his wife. King County officials have 60 days to respond to the claim before the family can file a civil suit.
With medical bills already nearing $1 million, Osborn said Harris, 29, of Edmonds, suffered permanent brain damage and will require "long-term care for the rest of his life."
Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for county Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, said his office could not comment on pending litigation.
In May, Harris was wrongly identified by a witness as a suspect in an assault outside a Belltown convenience store. The witness pointed Harris out to two King County Metro Transit officers. They yelled at Harris from across the street, but he ran, according to the Sheriff's Office. Harris was chased by the deputies for several blocks.
As Harris slowed to a stop, Paul slammed him into the concrete wall outside the theater.
King County Metro contracts with the Sheriff's Office for transit security.
According to Osborn, Paul and Deputy Joseph Eshom were wearing black tactical uniforms, not traditional deputy uniforms, at the time of the incident.
According to the Sheriff's Office, an investigation determined that Paul delivered a "hard shove" that fell within legal bounds.
In July, the Prosecuting Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges against the deputy, calling the confrontation "a very tragic incident."
"The law provides that an officer 'shall not be held criminally liable for using force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable,' " according to a statement released by the Prosecuting Attorney's Office last month. "Christopher Harris was identified by witnesses to officers as a suspect in a violent crime. He ran for several blocks after he was told to stop by uniformed officers. As the deputy caught up to him, the deputy used a standard takedown procedure. As a result, no criminal charge can be filed."
But Osborn said at Tuesday's news conference that several witnesses have provided accounts that conflict with the version presented by the Sheriff's Office.
One key issue is when the deputies identified themselves to Harris:
While the deputies say they identified themselves and yelled for Harris to stop, Osborn said witnesses have provided testimony that they didn't identify themselves at the outset of the foot chase.
A surveillance camera outside the theater captured footage of the incident and Harris can be seen raising his hands before he is hit from behind by Paul.
A tearful Jorgenson recounted meeting Harris when both were 15, and at 16 exchanging promise rings for Christmas, two months after they started dating.
"When we got married, he insisted that promise ring be his wedding band. He didn't want anything else," she said.
Jorgenson said she wants to be able to care for her husband at home. He is currently at a long-term-care facility.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case
NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.