A judge this afternoon found King County willfully withheld internal information on sheriff’s deputy Matthew Paul’s previous use-of-force incidents to the family of a man who was left permanently brain-damaged when he was tackled by Paul in 2009.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend ordered the county to pay the family of the injured man, Christopher Sean Harris, $300,000 in punitive fees as well as attorney’s fees. She also said she may award additional money if Harris’ attorneys can show they would have prevailed at a civil rights trial had the information on Paul been disclosed.
Arend said King County’s failure to adequately look for documents that outlined concerns over Paul’s behavior was “reprehensible and reckless.”
The family of Harris reached a $10 million settlement in 2011 after suing the county, claiming Paul acted negligently and used excessive force on May 10, 2009, when he shoved Harris into a wall in downtown Seattle. Harris had been mistakenly identified as a suspect in a bar fight.
Harris was left brain-damaged, paralyzed and unable to speak.
But last year, Harris’ attorneys filed a motion claiming they were entitled to additional money when they learned the Sheriff’s Office withheld emails and other information that documented concerns within the Sheriff’s Office over other use-of-force incidents by Paul. They asked a judge to sanction King County for failing to disclose the information and order it pay an additional $3.3 million.
Harris’ attorney, Sim Osborn, says the county should have disclosed the information to Harris’ legal team before the 2011 civil trial.
The case was heard in Pierce County to avoid a conflict of interest.
In court filings, attorneys for the county said that there were legal privacy restrictions banning them from releasing information about one of the complaints bcecause it was not upheld.
Court records also say that the emails documenting other concerns about Paul’s behavior did not surface until after the civil trial.
After today’s ruling, King County Sheriff Steve Strachan disputed the judge’s assertion that the Sheriff’s Office deliberately withheld the documents.
Paul remains a sheriff’s deputy.