Man Dies After Being Slammed Against Concrete Wall In 2009 By Deputy Sheriff

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Christopher Harris
Christopher Harris

A thirty-six-year-old man who suffered a catastrophic brain injury as a result of a use of force by a King County Washington sheriff’s deputy in 2009 has died as a result of his injuries, according to a Thurston County forensic pathologist. The coroner’s office determined the death to be caused by a homicide. This does not necessarily mean that the homicide was criminal in nature. It means that the death was caused as a result of a person and is not necessarily criminal nature. Such a determination is within the purview of the County Prosecutor’s Office.

I find the use of force to be troubling, however the deputy was cleared by both an internal affairs investigation and a review by the County prosecutor’s office. I do not agree with the findings of the IA but I recognize it would have been a difficult criminal case presented to a jury.


The incident began after Christopher Harris ran from deputies who had mistaken him for a suspect at a local cinema. After a chase spanning several blocks Harris stopped and turned, facing the deputy. A moment later one of the deputies shoved Harris backward whereupon his head impacted a concrete wall apparently rendering him unconscious.

A video of the incident may be viewed HERE.

While the incident could be construed as a flight from a Terry stop which the state Supreme Court ruled as violating the state statute for obstructing a law enforcement officer, I don’t believe the use of force could be justified based upon the totality of the circumstances.

First, from the information presented I am not convinced that events leading to the use of force was sufficient to justify the amount of force used, given the location at which it occurred, in so far as a shove on a sidewalk into a concrete wall is to be pronounced reasonable. Had this instead been an situation involving the use of a weapon against the officer or other persons I could understand and perhaps excuse the amount of force used as it would likely necessary to quickly subdue suspect. Mitigating circumstance might have been raised that the deputies involved had believed at the time of occurrence that Mr. Harris was involved in criminal activity. Nevertheless we have to look at circumstances in which the use of force was used.


It is well known to officers and any person in general that a sudden fall to concrete is likely to result in great injury. In fact the state Supreme Court had ruled previously, though I don’t believe it was before this incident had occurred, that slamming a person’s head to concrete floor could be considered a felony assault where the floor was in fact a weapon.

I did not see in the surveillance video and it was not reported that Mr. Harris was attempting to draw weapon when he turned to face the deputy.

If we could use the example of training with a Taser, the instructions are that caution should be used one deploying a Taser against a suspect while the suspect is on concrete or is moving or running on the concrete. A Taser was not used in this incident but it could further be used as evidence that the deputy’s training should have encouraged him to not use such force into a concrete structure.

Wile hindsight can always be more clear than in the field, I believe in this case the deputy should of known that the amount of force used against the person was not necessary as he had stopped and in his stance made him extremely vulnerable to injury given the type of force the deputy intended to use against Mr. Harris. A more reasonable use of force would have been to take hold of Mr. Harris and put him to the ground in a manner unlikely to cause injury to him. Given the two block flight, putting him on the ground is the reasonable approach as it would minimize the possibility of flight and combat with the officers.

The second act that I consider an unreasonable force was setting up and dragging Mr. Harris into a cuffing position having seen an obvious injury that rendered him unconscious. But more importantly from the angle in which he had impacted the wall it presented a high probability of a catastrophic neck injury where further movement of Mr. Harris could have greatly increased his vulnerability to paralysis and death. I understand that officers do not have an x-ray or an MRI device to determine if the neck injury had occurred in the field, they should have known that moving a person in this type of situation regardless if it was criminal in nature or an accident could lead to catastrophic neck injury. Had the striking against the wall been caused by a person being ejected from an automobile, and the deputies had seen this, I very much doubt that they would of moved Mr. Harris as they did and instead would have immobilized him and waited for an EMS crew to put a cervical collar on him and place him atop a backboard.

In 2011 King County agreed to pay to Mr. Harris a $10 million settlement after a tort claim filed on behalf of his wife Sarah. In her complaint she accused the King County Sheriff’s deputy of using excessive force and was negligent.

Following the incident, Mr. Harris suffered since 2009’s dramatic and catastrophic brain injuries rendering him totally disabled and removing him from an otherwise healthy lifestyle. He recently died consequent to those initial injuries according to the pathology report stemmed from “acute and chronic pneumonia of the lungs, due to medical sequelae, due to blunt head trauma.”

By Darren Smith


Q13 Fox

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

40 thoughts on “Man Dies After Being Slammed Against Concrete Wall In 2009 By Deputy Sheriff”

  1. @Paul Schulte: I know what qualified immunity is. Your link says: ““Qualified immunity balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment…”.

    Since the first interest is very apparently ignored, regularly, especially in this case, there is in fact, no balance there at all. Police apparently feel their sense of harassment overrules all else.

  2. West Virginia Bill Requiring Courts To Inform Jurors Of Their Right To Nullify.

    Good news for ‘we the people’ and before the constitution haters come out of the woodwork, making the ‘if everyone did this!” argument, proclaiming the end of law and order, consider that we’ve been doing it ‘their way’ for a very long time and look at the results. If you don’t support jury nullification then stop complaining about the endless stream of unjust verdicts. Or maybe you personally should be the only person who is qualified to sit on a jury?

  3. Honestly, if anyone here doesn’t believe that was excessive force from the moment of contact, s/he should vote for Trump because s/he’s as much of an idiot as he is.

    The officer is a city employee for heaven’s sake, not Lawrence Taylor on steroids and cocaine.

  4. Karen,
    It appears that the officer finally caught up with him right when he stopped and turned around. He body-slammed him and the young man went flying off his feet about 8 feet and struck the wall on the way to the ground.

  5. Paul:

    Did the officer slam into the guy because he ran into him? Was he trying to take him down but barreled into him too fast? It’s so frustrating not to be able to watch the bloody video.

    I am very curious to know what the opinion of the IA and prosecutor were.

  6. Olly

    Like I said, self control is a police officer’s primary weapon. This one lost it. Regarding evolution, most if not almost all police officers use self control in situations like this. The proper approach would have been to pull out a taser or fire arm and instruct the individual to assume the position. The officer would have been in control from a safe distance and the outcome of the altercation would be up to the individual. The immediate attack of the police officer represents someone out of control and running on adrenalin or emotions, not the workings we want in cops.

  7. “Since when is running a capital offense?”


    Are you unable to admit this young man’s actions contributed in some way to his own death? He wasn’t out for a jog and some rogue cop decided the best thing would be to body slam him into a wall. Would you have equal compassion for the officer if the young man were able to body slam the officer into the wall, leading to his death? I would not want to be an LEO in today’s climate. In the eyes of many they are required to handle EVERY situation perfectly and if they do not, they are quickly and publicly prosecuted and sentenced without the benefit of the doubt. How many of us conduct our personal and professional lives without error, with your life on the line every day and can do so knowing what you do and how you do it will be open to public scrutiny and condemnation for the most benign infraction? How many of you innocently sit in your vehicle or eat in a restaurant knowing you have people in your community plotting to assassinate you?

    Go ahead, cast the first stone.

  8. What a preventable tragedy.

    I’m trained in First Aid. Not moving someone after such an injury is taught in basic first aid, of which it is my understanding that, as First Responders, all law enforcement officers are trained.

    Him slamming his head into concrete is the same as slamming a concrete block into his head. Getting knocked unconscious automatically indicates some level of brain injury, such as a concussion. They should have given him first aid and then called an ambulance.

    Since I can’t watch the video I cannot say if the officer ran into the suspect or deliberately threw him. But I do think that his actions after the man was knocked unconscious were wrong and contrary to basic first aid. Did the IA and prosecutor explain how they came to their conclusions?

    1. Karen – the subject was running, turned and stopped. The officer was right behind him, about 10 feet from the wall. The officer hit him in the chest with crossed arms and the victim took a step back, then fell onto the ground, then hit his head on the wall. The officer immediately checked the victim and moved him away from the wall. This may or may not have been best practice. It all happens really fast.

  9. I don’t understand how “qualified immunity” is constitutional. Equality before the law has become a joke. Are cops allowed to be jury & executioner simply because “they have a tough job” ? Or is this a leftover from Vietnam, where the US “…had to destroy a village in order to save it” ?

  10. This is a great example to prove isaac’s claim that human nature evolves is false. Putting on a uniform with badge and gun does not change the fundamental nature of man. Putting on a suit and swearing an oath to the constitution does not change a politician’s fundamental nature. We all have fallible natures and both the young man and officer’s failed to control them.

  11. In WA, no law enforcement office is guilty if he acted “without malice” and ” a reasonable belief actions were justified” Impossible to convict, and attempts to amend WA law failed in the legislative committe this year.

  12. Paul

    That’s right. The cop lost control. The guy is dead. Of course the fault is not the cop’s. He can interpret the incident anyway he wants and let his emotions decide how it comes out.

    “You looking at me? You got something to hide? You must be a dangerous type.”

  13. The cop lost it, his temper, his control, what he is paid to maintain at all times. However the ‘it’ is described and regardless of the legal mumbo jumbo a police officer’s primary weapon is control. He lost control and caused irreparable damage to an innocent person. He should be removed from the position of a police officer in contact with the public. The government should pay the money. This is the surest way to include better training and screening for cops.

    The fact that most cops don’t lose control is the benchmark that should be used, not nonsensical legal mumbo jumbo from the protective position. The lightest penalty this cop should have received is to have been dismissed.

    1. issac – having watched the video, I have a problem laying the damage at the door of the officer. The victim stopped and almost instantly the running officer was there and checked him down. Originally, from the tape I would have estimated the distance from the victim to the wall to have been greater than the height of the victim. However, he took a step back, then went down, then hit his head. It was all very quick.

  14. I’m glad I read all this before seeing the video. It is clear that the “suspect” decided to stop running and turn to face the officer who appeared to be just catching up the “fleeing suspect”. The stopping, turning and then getting body slammed happened very quickly. I do not believe this video demonstrates the officer was trying to slam his head into the wall. I believe at the end of a several block chase with someone that has fled from an officer, the Adrenalin is pumping and the officer simply wanted to take tactical advantage of the situation.

    Had the young man NOT run the officer would have NOT body slammed him into the wall. The officer would have learned this young man was not a witness and still be alive today. The commentary here made it out that this innocent young man was just standing there doe-eyed waiting peacefully for the officer to finally catch up so they could have a friendly conversation. After readying these comments I expected to see the young man standing right next to the wall and have only his head pushed by the officer into the wall.

    This is a tragic ending of an incident that could have ended far different had the young man simply not run.

    1. Olly – you see the same thing happen in football games all the time. One person starts to tackle the player and another is in hot pursuit right behind, so he either piles on or tries to miss the pile. In this case the victim/perp should have never run to begin with. Would have saved his life.

  15. They would be hard pressed to prosecute after they already cleared him. And they got out cheap at $10 million.

  16. If he cop was not “wrong” then why did the employers pay the victim all that money? Huh?

    Since the guy died this is a case of assault with intent to do great bodily harm and manslaughter.
    The cop did indeed slaughter a man. Had the victim been female then this would be a case of womanslaughter.

  17. Harris was misidentified by a witness to a bar fight and took off running. He was not being detained at the time. It is not illegal to run away from police if one is not being detained or arrested. The cop had no earthly reason to slam a man against a wall when he had stopped, turned and was no threat whatsoever… except that he was upset that the man had run. Another ‘contempt of cop’ death. Despicable bully and coward.

  18. Again, until police officers are held personally financially responsible for such behavior, they will continue to be incentivized by various motives to engage in it :

    “The Supreme Court has a steady diet of constitutional tort cases, in which plaintiffs seek money damages for public officials’ claimed violations of their constitutional rights. This Term is no exception – Wood v.Moss, Plumhoff v. Rickard, and Lane v. Franks are all constitutional tort cases. Like all tort cases, the purpose of allowing such litigation is both to compensate plaintiffs for their injuries and to deter behavior in the future — the latter being particularly important when it comes to protecting constitutional rights.

    But a new article by Professor Joanna Schwartz on the widespread indemnification of police officers raises questions about whether these lawsuits actually do serve a deterrent function, and also casts some doubts on the purpose of the qualified immunity doctrine that courts employ to protect public employees. (Emphasis added)

    “As Schwartz notes, courts approach constitutional tort cases as if the officers themselves will pay money judgments out of their own pockets. For that reasons, the doctrine of qualified immunity bars officers from being held liable unless the constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the violation to “ensure that talented candidates are not deterred by the threat of damages suits from entering public service.” (Steve Wermiel recently posted an excellent overview of qualified immunity on this blog.)

    But Schwartz’s national study of police indemnification practices found that officers are ‘virtually always indemnified’ by their employers. Schwartz examined the indemnification practices of forty-four of the largest law enforcement agencies across the country, and thirty-seven mid-sized and small agencies. During the study period, she found that governments paid 99.98% of the monetary awards to plaintiffs in such lawsuits. Even when indemnification was prohibited by law or policy, law enforcement officers did not contribute to settlements or judgments. Nor did the officers pay punitive damages awards — even though the primary purpose of these awards is to deter future misconduct rather than to compensate the plaintiff. (Emphasis added)

    “Professor Schwartz concludes that judicial doctrines too often rely on the ‘counterfactual assumption’ that individual officers must pay awards against them from their own pockets. In particular, she takes aim at the Supreme Court’s current rationales for qualified immunity, which she thinks are not supportable in light of the evidence of nearly-universal officer indemnification.

    Because she concludes that indemnification practices ‘achieve the stated goal of qualified immunity doctrine,’ she worries [that] adding the buffer of qualified immunity, ‘reduces the deterrent effect of lawsuits nearly to zero.’ ” (Emphasis added)

  19. Traveling 3mph, deceleration of the brain slamming into the cranium can be fatal.

    Running from LEO’s carries high risk factor.

Comments are closed.