King County settles for $3 million with victim of 'justified' shooting

You would think there is no safer place to be than in your bed asleep at night, but that notion was shattered for a 29-year-old Auburn man who was shot 16 times by police as he lay in bed.

Dustin Theoharris was asleep in the room he was renting when a King County deputy and a Department of Corrections officer served an arrest warrant at the home.

After nabbing the man for the probation violation, the officers decided to search the home. Though not having a specific warrant, they did have the authority to search the house under the probation arrest warrant. They went to check-out Theoharris' room. Cole Harrison was in the home at the time. "They rushed down into that room like they were going to get somebody," he said. "They rushed down there and then all of a sudden it was boom, boom, boom, boom."

The officers fired nearly 20 shots from close range, hitting Theoharris 16 times. "He (Theoharris) had a shattered jaw, a broken shoulder, two broken arms and broken legs," said his attorney, Erik Heipt.

King County and the Department of Corrections both cleared the officers of any wrong-doing in the shooting. They claim Theoharris was reaching for something after they burst into his room. Deputy Aaron Thompson fired several of the shots. "There is no higher level of threat," he said. "I thought he was going to try to kill us."

But the only thing in Theoharris' room was a small flashlight and some empty cans.

Attorney Ed Budge told KING 5 there is no way the shooting was justified.

"At the end of the day, an innocent person was shot 16 times in his own bed who wasn't doing anything wrong in a situation where the law enforcement officers had no right whatsoever to even enter his room," said Budge.

King County has agreed to pay Theoharris $3 million to settle his lawsuit. He will likely never work again. He's scheduled to undergo his 13th surgery since the shooting soon.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart was not in charge in February of 2012 when the shooting happened, but this case was one of the first he looked into.

"We can't ever make him whole," Urquhart said. "We can't bring him back to the man that he was, ever, and that's a shame. I felt horrible."

Sheriff Urquhart ordered more training for deputies and detectives because of this case and suspended the practice of putting deputies with corrections officers to serve warrants. "I think there are things that could have been done differently, that should have been done differently, that will be done differently, going forward."

The Department of Corrections is still facing a lawsuit from Theoharris and his attorneys.

The person arrested that night was wanted for failing to show up for community service.


Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio Reporter
Chris loves the rush of covering breaking news and works hard to try to make sense of it all while telling stories about real people in extraordinary circumstances.
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