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Originally published Monday, January 24, 2011 at 8:49 PM

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Paramedic testifies deputy said man ran into wall

A paramedic who treated Christopher Sean Harris after he was shoved into a wall by a King County sheriff's deputy in May 2009 testified Monday that the deputy's partner claimed Harris had run into the wall headfirst.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Security video from incident

TACOMA — A paramedic who treated Christopher Sean Harris after he was shoved into a wall by a King County sheriff's deputy in May 2009 testified Monday that the deputy's partner claimed Harris had run into the wall headfirst.

The paramedic, Ryan White, also testified that he initially didn't realize that deputies Matthew Paul and Joseph Eshom were law-enforcement officers because they were wearing all-black uniforms — testimony that echoed accounts from witnesses who last week said they thought the deputies were either security guards or bouncers.

Eshom, who also testified Monday, said he and Paul did not identify themselves as law-enforcement officers until after Harris had started running away from them. Both deputies were working as Metro Transit officers.

Attorneys representing Harris' wife, Sarah, in a civil suit against King County are attempting to show that Harris likely didn't know the two deputies were law-enforcement officers when he led them on a 2 ½-block foot chase. The chase ended when Harris slowed at Fourth Avenue and Lenora Street and Paul delivered a hard shove to Harris' chest, causing him to hit the back of his head on a concrete wall outside the Cinerama theater in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood.

Harris, of Edmonds, suffered a catastrophic head injury and now requires around-the-clock care.

The 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." An internal investigation by the Sheriff's Office cleared Paul of any wrongdoing, and King County prosecutors later found no basis to charge the deputy with a crime.

Eshom and White also testified Monday that they weren't aware at the time that there were surveillance cameras outside the theater that captured footage of the incident.

Eshom, a nearly five-year veteran of the sheriff's office, testified that he and Paul were responsible for patrolling downtown bus lines and shelters downtown when Harris was injured. Paul was listening to Seattle police radio transmissions and heard that police were responding to a bar fight and assault when a drunk, hysterical woman approached them, Eshom said.

She wasn't able to describe the three possible suspects, but "she said she could point them out" and walked through an alley with the deputies. When they walked out of the alley on the north side of Blanchard Street, the woman pointed to Harris, who was standing on the south side, Eshom said.

"She pointed him out to us. He was the only person standing there," Eshom said. Harris, he said, saw the three of them pointing at him and started moving away before breaking into a run.

It was later determined that Harris was not involved in the bloody bar fight.

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"Chris Harris started to run before you identified yourself as police officers?" asked Sim Osborn, an attorney for Sarah Harris.

"Yes," Eshom answered. "I yelled 'police' after I started running."

Eshom testified that both he and Paul yelled several times for Harris to stop, identified themselves as officers three or four times, and saw Harris digging in his pockets as he ran. But when asked if he'd ever told anyone that Harris had run head first into the concrete wall, Eshom replied, "no."

That answer contradicted White's testimony, which included the signed incident report he completed for doctors at Harborview Medical Center immediately after bringing Harris to the hospital.

White, who works for Stanwood Camano Island Fire & Rescue, was in paramedic training with Seattle firefighters when he was dispatched to the Cinerama theater early on May 10, 2009. When he arrived on scene, White said, none of the officers came forward to describe what had happened.

"I said, 'Somebody tell me what happened' and I got no answer. I kind of barked again, and said, 'I need to get a story before we go,' " White said.

That's when Eshom came forward and "said this guy was running away from them ... and that he, the patient, turned to look behind him and he ran full speed, headfirst into the wall," White testified.

The account didn't make sense because "the back of his head was crushed," White said.

"Were you told he was pushed into the wall?" asked Ray Dearie, another attorney for Sarah Harris. "No," White replied, adding that another officer "kind of chuckled and said, 'That's what happened — he ran head first into the wall.' "

Paul, the deputy who shoved Harris, is expected to testify Tuesday.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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