Victim's family seeks bigger settlement over deputy's use of force
A lawsuit filed against a King County sheriff's deputy on Tuesday alleges he slammed a man to the ground in a 2010 jaywalking arrest, breaking the man's nose. Meanwhile the family of a man left comatose after the same deputy shoved him into a wall in 2009 is seeking millions in addition to a previous settlement, saying the Sheriff's Office withheld documents.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The family of a man who was left comatose after he was shoved into a wall by a King County sheriff's deputy in 2009 is asking for $3.3 million more in addition to a $10 million settlement the county paid, alleging the Sheriff's Office withheld critical documents detailing previous use-of-force concerns about Deputy Matthew Paul.
Meanwhile, another Seattle man filed a federal lawsuit against Paul on Tuesday alleging the deputy slammed him to the ground, breaking his nose, during a jaywalking arrest in May 2010. Jeffrey Gold claims he had stopped to videotape Paul and other deputies dealing with an intoxicated person at a bus stop. Gold claims Paul ordered him to leave the scene, then charged after him, knocking him to the ground.
A sheriff's internal investigation concluded Paul had acted within policy when he arrested Gold. According to statements by Paul and other deputies, Gold was defiant and refused to get out of the road when told to do so.
Gold was booked for investigation of jaywalking and obstructing an officer, but was never prosecuted.
The case reportedly caught the attention of the FBI, but spokeswoman Ayn Sandalo Dietrich would say only that the bureau was aware of the incident. She declined to discuss whether the bureau had opened a criminal investigation into it.
In determining whether to open an investigation, Dietrich said agents would have to examine if the officer was acting in his official capacity; acted willfully to deprive the victim of a civil right; and acted intentionally and unreasonably.
Gold's lawsuit is being handled by Sim Osborn, who represented the family of Christopher Sean Harris, formerly of Edmonds.
Paul chased Harris down and shoved him hard into a concrete wall in May 2009 after a witness mistakenly identified Harris as a suspect in a bar fight. Paul was working as a downtown Metro Transit officer at the time.
Harris suffered a catastrophic brain injury, is paralyzed and can't speak.
An internal Sheriff's Office investigation determined that Paul delivered a "hard shove" that fell within legal bounds. The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, calling the confrontation "a very tragic incident," declined to file criminal charges against the deputy.
Last year, Sheriff Sue Rahr placed Paul on a performance-improvement plan after a series of unidentified "incidents" between August and December 2010, saying his street tactics had led to "verbal conflicts, physical confrontations, use of force and marginal arrests."
In January 2011, the county settled a Superior Court suit filed by Harris' family for $10 million, the estimated costs of the lifetime of care he will need.
The family is now asking that the county pay $3.3 million more, roughly the portion of the settlement paid to Harris' lawyers.
Osborn, the family's lawyer, argues that the county withheld a 2007 email string that could have helped him show that the county knew or should have known that Paul was a troubled deputy. That information, he said, could have helped support a federal civil-rights claim, which would have allowed the family to seek punitive damages and attorneys fees they weren't able to obtain through the state lawsuit.
Without knowing about the document, Osborn claims, "we were hindered in our ability to prepare for trial."
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend, who is hearing the case, has set a hearing for March 8.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Cindi West said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
The documents at issue involve the Gold incident, which Osborn said was not disclosed during litigation of the Harris case, and a 2007 series of emails between the commander of the state Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA) and Paul's supervisor in Burien, which contracts with the Sheriff's Office for police services.
Cmdr. Ron Griffin wrote that Paul had "expressed interest" in assisting at the training academy as a defensive tactics "mock scene actor," which involved him dressing in a protective suit and engaging new recruits as part of their defensive-tactics training. Griffin noted that the actor has to use "significant restraint."
Paul failed to do that. In fact, his overly aggressive behavior resulted in him being asked not to come back and in a warning email to his boss, Burien Chief Scott Kimerer.
"The first concern was about the amount of force he used against a small female officer, far above the norm," Griffin wrote.
The bigger issue, however, was his attitude in being "somewhat proud of his performance" and that he "expressed himself in a macho type demeanor" even during a debriefing.
"The reason I bring this to your attention is because of my concern that if Matt's behavior is upsetting to us at BLEA, he is likely exhibiting poor behavior to the public or fellow deputies," Griffin wrote.
Kimerer said Paul would receive counseling. "This might be a great example of an early warning indicator," he wrote.
Paul continues to work as a patrol deputy, according to the sheriff's roster.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org