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Originally published April 19, 2012 at 8:44 PM | Page modified April 19, 2012 at 9:04 PM

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Federal jury rejects civil claim of man Tasered by Seattle officers

The jury, after six hours of deliberations, rejected the final allegations remaining in the 2010 lawsuit filed by 29-year-old Demetrius James: that Officer Gerald House committed an assault when he shot James with a Taser through the open window of his moving car.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A federal jury has sided with a Seattle police officer who used a Taser on the driver of a car in a Central District parking lot in 2009, sparking a confrontation that resulted in another officer shooting the man.

The jury, after six hours of deliberations, rejected the final allegations remaining in the 2010 lawsuit filed by 29-year-old Demetrius James: that Officer Gerald House committed an assault when he shot James with a Taser through the open window of his moving car.

James maintained in his lawsuit that House's actions were unjustified, and because of them James lost control of the car. That, in turn, caused another police officer, Jonathan Chin, to fire into the car with his handgun when James repeatedly refused to respond to commands to stop and drove toward him.

James, who was wanted for a probation violation and had no driver's license, fled on foot. He was arrested a short distance away and police dash-camera audio of his screams as officers placed handcuffs on his wounded arm were repeatedly broadcast on local news stations.

After two mistrials and 14 months in jail, James pleaded guilty to a felony assault charge. James, according to the lawsuit, was a professional pianist but no longer has the flexibility in his shattered wrist needed to play.

James sued the department alleging excessive use of force and questioning whether the officers initiated the stop simply because there were three black men sitting in a Lexus on South Jackson Street, a high-crime area.

The police department said the shooting was justified, but it raised questions with the civilian auditor who monitors investigations of officer-involved shootings. The officers had said they investigated the car because it had mismatched plates. However, Seattle attorney Rebecca Roe, the auditor, said the officers couldn't have known the plates didn't match because of the way the vehicle was parked.

U.S. District Judge James Robart dismissed the excessive-force claim from the shooting, finding that Chin was reasonable to believe his life was in danger when the car moved toward him, regardless of whether James had been shot with a Taser.

"The jury vindicated the officers," said attorney Karen Cobb of the firm Stafford Frey Cooper, which represented the department and officers. "They found the officers did what was necessary to protect the public. They did their jobs."

James's attorney, Lee Rousso, said, "We had our day in court, which is all Demetrius had ever asked for. He wanted the case heard by a jury. It was and we lost."

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

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