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Auburn man shot 16 times files $20 million suit against DOC

Reporter staff

A King County Sheriff's detective and a Department of Corrections officer burst into Dustin Theoharis' room on Feb. 11 2012 and shot him 16 times as he lay in his bed.

The officers later claimed Theoharis had reached in the darkness for what they thought was a gun. He was unarmed.

Theoharis, severely wounded, has since undergone 16 surgeries to repair the damage.

Despite a recent finding that the officers had acted in self defense and the King County Prosecutor's refusal to pursue the case, the county agreed to pay Theoharis $3 million.

Now the Auburn man's family has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the DOC.

"Without a warrant, you shoot an unarmed man while he's in his bed 16 times," Eric Heipt, one of Theoharis' attorneys, told KCPQ 13. "I don't know how you could possibly conclude that to be a justified shooting."

Reviewing a report demanding change in the King County Sheriff's Office in the wake of the shooting Wednesday, King County Council members wondered much the same thing.

According to court papers, here is what happened that day.

Acting on prior information, detective Aaron Thompson and DOC officer Kristopher Rongen had just served a DOC felony-arrest warrant on parole violator Nicholas Harrison when they decided to check the lower floor of the split-level house. They were following a tip that another occupant of the house had a gun, which would have been a violation of the terms of Harrison's parole.

About 10 seconds later, according to the statement, other occupants of the house heard a swarm of gunshots. Another detective went downstairs into "a completely dark bedroom," where "the only available light was from a flashlight attached to the firearm of Detective Thompson."

According to the statement, Thompson and Rongen were standing, pointing their guns at Theoharis as he lay in a pool of blood on the floor next to his bed. According to the statement, both officers looked to be in shock.

When the detective asked what had happened, Thompson allegedly answered: "He told us he had four guns, and then he started reaching for one."

In the blood, according to the statement, was a black metal flashlight, 5 inches long and 1 inch wide.

Also, within hands reach of the bed was an end table, littered with aluminum cans and other objects, including two black remote controls.

According to a later forensic examination, the gunshots had been aimed at that side of the bed.

Charles Gaither, the civilian overseer for the Sheriff's Office, said he knew from the start that there had to be a more in-depth review of the shooting. He cited the following problems with the investigation: the officers involved had not been immediately interviewed; investigators had overlooked physical evidence; evidence had been moved, and the first responding supervisor, a union representative, acted more like the officers' advocate than an investigator.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart, retired at the time, told the council that he had campaigned for office on a platform of doing a better job reviewing shootings and deputy use of force and that he had addressed the problem. Among Urquhart's new policies for officer-involved shootings: launching internal investigations at the same time the related criminal investigations are under way: and adding high-tech shooting simulators to officer training.

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