Witnesses at trial tell how deputy shoved man, injuring him
A Pierce County jury has begun hearing testimony in a personal-injury lawsuit filed against King County by Sarah Harris, whose husband Chris was catastrophically injured when he was shoved by King County Sheriff's Deputy Matthew Paul and smashed his head into a concrete wall in May 2009.
Seattle Times staff reporter
TACOMA — Kirstin Dahlberg and her friend Micah "Spike" Perry thought the two men dressed all in black were security guards. Ron Cody thought they were bouncers working at a nearby club.
The three testified Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court that they had no idea the men were actually King County sheriff's deputies — or that the man they were chasing was thought to have been involved in a violent assault minutes earlier.
They described how Deputy Matthew Paul shoved Christopher Sean Harris, followed by the thud of Harris' head striking a concrete wall.
This week, a jury of seven women and five men began hearing testimony in a personal-injury lawsuit filed against King County last year by Harris' wife, Sarah, and Franklin Smith, a court-appointed guardian responsible for ensuring that Christopher Harris' interests are represented. Their lawsuit, which was filed in Pierce County to avoid a possible conflict, accuses Paul of acting negligently and using excessive force.
In court documents, King County has denied liability and argued that any force used against Harris "was reasonable, necessary and lawful under the circumstances."
Harris, now 31, suffered a catastrophic brain injury early on May 10, 2009, after his head hit the wall outside the Cinerama Theater in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. Since then, he's been confined to bed, unable to walk, talk or do anything for himself, his wife told The Seattle Times in May.
A surveillance camera outside the movie theater captured footage of the incident.
It was later determined that Harris was wrongly identified as a suspect in an assault outside a Belltown convenience store.
It's not clear what Harris, who lived in Edmonds, was doing in Seattle that night. At the time, sheriff's officials said he'd paid someone $60 to drive him to Seattle after finishing work at an Edmonds restaurant.
Despite his injuries, Harris — who requires round-the-clock care — is expected to live 25 to 30 years, according to his wife's attorneys, Sim Osborn and Ray Dearie.
An internal investigation by the King County Sheriff's Office cleared Paul of any wrongdoing. King County prosecutors later found no basis to charge the deputy with a crime.
Paul is expected to testify in the civil trial early next week. The two deputies were working as Metro Transit police when the incident occurred.
Two senior King County deputy prosecutors, John Cobb and Kristofer Bundy, are representing the county in the civil case.
Dahlberg, 32, testified that she and friends had gone to a late showing of a "Star Trek" movie at the Cinerama the night Harris was hurt. She and Perry had crossed Fourth Avenue when they heard two men yelling: "Stop that man, stop that man!"
"I heard the man in front of them yell: 'I don't have anything,' " Dahlberg said, raising her hands to her shoulders, mimicking Harris' movements.
Perry and Cody later made the same gesture during their testimony.
"I wasn't sure who they were," Dahlberg said, testifying that she never heard the deputies identify themselves as law-enforcement officers. The deputies were wearing black fatigues, and Dahlberg said she didn't recognize them as the uniforms worn by Metro Transit police.
Harris slowed to a walk as he crossed Fourth Avenue on Lenora Street, Dahlberg said. She said Paul didn't slow his pace as he delivered a hard shove to Harris' chest.
"Before I knew it, he was just smashed into the wall," Dahlberg said of Harris.
Moments later, Dahlberg said, her eyes met Paul's and she heard him whisper to a colleague: "She saw." She described the deputy's expression as "surprised and worried."
Though Dahlberg remained at the scene, she said none of the officers would take her statement.
Though Perry testified that he couldn't recall if the deputies had identified themselves, he said it was obvious Harris was scared and wasn't putting up a fight.
"He was giving up. I could hear it in his voice, I could see it in his body language," said Perry, 30.
Cody and his wife had also gone to the Cinerama. Cody can be seen in the surveillance footage returning to the theater to retrieve his car keys just after Harris is shoved into the wall.
The deputy "just came right at him full force and pushed him. The kid lifted off in the air and slammed" into the wall, said Cody, 44.
"I ran up because I didn't know who these guys were," Cody said of the deputies, testifying that he thought they were bouncers because of their all-black dress. He said they identified themselves as officers and told Cody: "You don't know what he did."
"I was angry and I said, 'You didn't need to do that, I don't care what he did,' and they told me to get out of there," Cody said.
But Cody said he stuck around because "I wanted to bear witness to something I felt was unjust."
Testimony in the case is to resume Monday.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.