Changes coming To King County Sheriff's Office after unarmed man shot 16 times

by: Amy Clancy Updated:

SEATTLE - A man police weren't even looking for was shot 16 times by officers.

Wednesday, the new King County Sheriff said that won't happen on "his" watch.

John Urquhart ran for Sheriff promising better oversight of the department.  His first big test -- how to increase public confidence after the shooting of an unarmed man.

Dustin Theoharis was shot 16 times back in February 2012.  The two men who fired at the home in Auburn -- King County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Thompson and Department of Corrections Officer Kris Rongen -- were actually looking for Theoharis' housemate.

The shooting was found to be "justified" because officers believed Theoharis might have been reaching for a weapon.  No weapon was found, and King County recently paid $3 million to settle a wrongful shooting claim. 

 “When you enter a citizen’s bedroom without a warrant with your guns drawn and a flashlight shining in his face when he’s sleeping in his bed, and you unload 16 bullets into his body, it’s kind of hard for us to understand how that could be considered ‘justified,’” said Theoharis’ lawyer, Erik Heipt.

So the shooting was reviewed by King County's Office of Law Enforcement Oversight and the independent Police Assessment Resource Center. 

On Wednesday, the findings were presented to the King County Council. One of the two biggest concerns: That it took far too long to interview the officers involved. 

 “It is within King County Sheriff’s Office policy to compel a statement from an officer involved in a shooting, an officer who uses his firearm, within 72 hours,” Chris Mouton of the Police Assessment Resource Center told the Council.  “But this was not done.”

Urquhart told KIRO 7 that in order to implement a 72-hour policy, the deputies' union will have to sign off on the change.

  Meanwhile, he's already working on the second main concern and has implemented a concurrent administrative review process any time a deputy fires a weapon.

As for the $3,000,000 settlement with Theoharis, Urqhart said, “we can’t make Dustin Theoharis whole again.  Doesn’t matter what kind of money we pay him.  I think this was a reasonable settlement with him, for the injuries he suffered.  I have no problem with it whatsoever.”

KIRO Reporter Amy Clancy: “Yet the shooting itself was ‘justified?’”

Urquhart:  “The shooting was justified.  Two separate issues.  Two separate issues.”

Now Theoharis’ lawyers are taking on the state over the actions of DOC Officer Rongen.  They just filed a tort claim, seeking $20 million.

DOCUMENTS:

PDF: Summary of recommendations, major findings 

PDF: Merrick Bobb critique of Major Crimes Unit investigation

PDF: Review of officer-involved shooting of Dustin Theoharis