Sleeping Man Shot 16 Times May Sue Police For Abuse

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Auburn, Wash., resident Dustin Theoharris could end up costing the Kings County Sheriff’s Department a lot of money.

He wasn’t even the reason the cops went to the house where he was sleeping on the night of Feb. 11, 2012 to make an arrest. He didn’t own the house; in fact, he was only renting out a bedroom. Before police showed up that night, they didn’t even know Theoharris existed. They were there to pick up another man on a failure-to-appear charge — which they quickly did, without incident, before sweeping the place for contraband in the hope of adding to their suspect’s charges.

Cops would later learn that Theoharris was an alleged recreational drug user, but he sure wasn’t in the process of committing a crime when police woke him from a dead sleep by bursting through his bedroom door. Disoriented from the intrusion, Theoharris reached for a small flashlight.

One of the two officers who had burst into the room told the sheriff’s office in the immediate aftermath that, as Theoharris started to reach for the flashlight, the dazed young man announced to the cops that “he had four guns.”

That bit of verbal legerdemain represented some quick thinking on the part of the Detective Aaron Thompson because he and officer Kristopher Rongen had just drawn a lot of unwanted attention to themselves, put their careers in jeopardy and were about to have to explain to other officers in the house what they had just done — and why.

Because as Theoharris reached for his flashlight, Thompson and Rongen emptied 16 rounds into his body. The two cops had fired a total of 20 shots. Theoharris ended up on the floor, bleeding from wounds to his face, arms, legs and torso. His jaw and shoulder were shattered; he had also suffered organ damage and a fractured spine. But somehow, through multiple surgeries, he lived.

There weren’t “four guns” in the room; there were only two – the two the cops brought in with them. A locked gun case in a separate room contained a rifle owned by Theoharris.

Predictably, prosecutors panned the incident and sided with the cops, saying the perpetrators were justified in their use of force — all 16 bullets’ worth — against what they perceived to be a threat.

Never mind that any perception of threat was created entirely by the police themselves; that in the span of about 10 seconds, the cops had taken Theoharris from zonked-out slumber to all-out anguish; that the police didn’t enter his room with anything resembling a tactical plan; that they had no business entering his room in the first place; that their premise of searching the residence for guns — in order to slap an additional felony charge onto the man whom they’d already apprehended — at the very least required them to knock at Theoharris’ door and announce themselves.

The cops invoked their 5th Amendment powers when called by the district attorney’s office to testify about what they’d done.

Now, Theoharris is preparing a lawsuit — one that could cost Kings County many millions of dollars. And, while some may decry the waste of public funds that will attend a crippling verdict, it’s a good thing.

Because as long as law enforcement officers know that they can base their aggressive behavior on the presumption they are themselves immune from criminal law, torts are just about the only legal recourse their victims have. It’s too bad that recourse can be only a punishment, and not a deterrent.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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  • independent thinker

    The officers should be included in the lawsuit for the same amount as he is suing the county for. As long as only the county pays there is no incentive for the individual officer to act other than these officers did. When the individual officers are also held monitarily accountable then maybe they will think before they take this kind of action.

    • rivahmitch

      Hell, the SS troops should be used for target practice themselves. The problem is that government is insufficiently afraid of the people. Unless the people reclaim their supremacy, there will be, as Jefferson said, “tyranny”.

  • Freethinker

    If the man was sleeping,,why did not the police walk over to the bed and put a gun to his head, then they could have asked questions then.Sounds like two police were scared and was to quick to draw on an unarmed man..If the mans gun was locked up..he was unarmed.They should face charges just like a person on the strees who shoots an unarmed person..We don,t need these ,,,,,,<<<<<>>>guys on the force,,,to scared,,we need level headed thinkers on the force…

    • $20888627

      Put a gun to his head while hes sleeping??? That’s no solution!! Maybe never enter his bedroom at all! The “I have four guns” statement is an obvious lie. I don’t know what he’s waiting for, sue the dept and the pigs involved.

      • Nadzieja Batki

        To save the skins of the two policemen, their lawyers can use that lie about “I have four guns” from the sleepyhead against him. He was awake and alert enough to say that lie.

      • Trav

        “Whats he waiting for?” It doesnt sound like this guy has hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it. This is the one thing people seem to be very naive of…attorneys are very expensive. I myself had the chance to sue the Pulaski police dept. and would have won easily but couldnt…For one thing I didnt have the money, another I couldnt find an attorney that would go up against police, and not because I didnt have a good case, they actually recommended I sue, it was because they just didnt want to go up against police…So it is a bit harder than you think..

  • jdn

    The cops are just doing as trained . 3 am no knock warrant searches and arrests . Shooting people in bed is just a perk . These kinds of things will not stop but only escalate . I still remember waking up to see my neighbors naked and face down on the front lawn as their house was totally trashed only to receive an ooops our bad , wrong house . They were lucky to have lived as they owned a rifle and a shotgun .

    • Michael Shreve

      AND the police are NOT required to pay ANY damages for their error.

  • Corsica

    Sounds like jittery, trigger-happy cops. 16 shots? Whoa, talk about hysteria. He should sue for scatey-eight million!

  • Michael

    Cops continue to be nothing more than thugs with badges. TV tells us all cops are good guys, but every day life paints an entirely different picture of these bullies and malcontents. Gone are the days when someone with a badge was termed a “peace officer”. Now they are part nut cases with the “law” on their side. Is it any wonder we need to fight to keep the 2nd Amendment?

    • Jeff

      Really? That’s what you got out of that story? How about this kind of thing happens all the time, but when it happens to a Black man, you guys would side with the cops every time. If he had a gun in his hand, he’d be dead now. He would have been hit with 160 bullets rather than 16! When you are face-to-face with armed police officers, the 2nd Amendment is meaningless. You’re much better off unarmed. I completely agree the cops were completely off base here, but maybe they get a bit jittery with all the gun nut talk they hear. I’m just gratified that on a right wing blog, there is sentiment that some lawsuits are not frivolous.

      • The Snarf

        Jeff,your race card is cliche and pathetic,and no longer works.

        • Jeff

          Perhaps, but it’s true. When police shoot a person of color, the coverage is much different from its coverage of a white victim.

          • The Snarf

            Like the amount of coverage it gets if it’s a white cop shooting the ‘person of color’? Meanwhile,blacks killing other blacks,whites or Asians get very little,if any,coverage.That’s the only difference I’ve noticed.

          • Jeff

            Maybe. I just know there was a case here in Southern California where a couple of transit cops beat a guy to death for no good reason. He was white and mentally somewhat disabled and two very popular radio jocks took on his case very publicly. I’m not sure that 2 relatively conservative shock jocks would have done that for a Black guy. I could be wrong, but I’m not wrong about the mentality of police that Black guys are the enemy. And that applies even to Black cops!

    • Michael Shreve

      Some are, some aren’t. Unfortunately, selection, training and judgement are issues.

      • Jeff

        But have you ever heard a Republican say “lawsuit” without first saying “frivolous”?

    • Toy Pupanbai

      To serve and protect?
      They served him a load of lead and then protected themselves!

  • Gary

    Give a coward a government paycheck and a badge and you create an instant bully. In this case two bullies.

    • Jeff

      Would you prefer that the cops be privately paid? Who are these government workers you morons are always complaining about? Most are cops, firemen, and teachers. Do you really resent them that much? Yes, cops often overreact and people need access to the courts when it happens. But the fact they receive a public paycheck has nothing to do with the problem!

      • Ibn Insha

        You are the one who is moron who had the nerve to defend government workers the most of whom are nothing but lazy bastards getting fat on the hard earned money of citizens of this country.

        Cops often overreact. Really? Cops overreact most of the time. Their badge gives them authority to abuse anybody without impunity.

        • Jeff

          I’m not quite sure from where your anger stems? Is it because cops can be brutal thugs or is it because they are on the public payroll? Do you feel the same way about firemen and teachers, very few of whom are brutal thugs? And what is your alternative to having public workers on the public payroll? We have private companies running prisons, and they tend to lobby for not changing drug laws – anything to increase business.

  • empty pockets

    Holy police state, Batman! The Nazis would be sooo proud. The KGB handbook followed to the letter. Fidel and Che couldn’t have done better. Wow! Ain’t America grand in this “fundamental transformational phase”? A lawless regime breeds lawlessness throughout.

  • Steve E

    I think Kings County should be sued into bankruptcy. That should teach any jurisdiction not to hire stupid cops.

  • Merlin1951

    20 Shots fired by 2 police at close range and only 16 hit. Something is very wrong with the shooting, amount of shots fired, and accuracy of the police at close range. These guys are trained. They also needed to Identifiy and evaulate the threat properly. A person getting shot usually stops any form of resistance imediately. I have trouble with the next 14 or 15 shots.

    I have sons LEO and normally back most police shootings. This is one I would have trouble with.

    • Michael Shreve

      Actually, they were remarkably accurate shooters.

      • Merlin1951

        I have sons LEO and I am the first to back most police shootings. I still have trouble with this one in the amount of shots, accuracy and surprise to sleeping person. 16 hits out of 20 shots across a bedroom is only 80 percent. 80 Percent is a fail or marginal pass in most states for a CHL. Almost sounds like an out of control, panic, spray and pray shooting.

        Far to many shots. This is like the 4 police that shot up a truck early morning because it looked like the truck Chis Dorner was driving. They also surprised The Mom and Daughter delivering newspapers.

        Sorry, Still having trouble with this shooting.

  • Robert L. Rice

    just more stupid cops,that act BEFORE they think…………

  • JCfromDC

    The Nazification of our Police forces nationwide is staggering. In Lee county Florida, “peace officers” i.e., the corrupt Sheriff’s Dept. tazered to DEATH an “out of control” 13 y/o sitting in a car (how “out of control” was that?) and another man, completely stripped, in jail, in wrist/ankle restraints and joined at the waist, while doing a cavity search because HE “was out of control”? Guess where they “tazed” him? In the genitals, resulting in death!!! What qualifies “out of control” these days? Looking at a “peace officer” cross-eyed before they KILL YOU?… because of a “perceived threat”? What kind of sadistic asses are we allowing to wear a badge nowadays? Are WE now the former Soviet Union, or other former East Bloc dictatorship, with an out-of-control KGB/GRU? The techniques and procedures they are taught are today gleaned from the old Nazi SS and Soviet KGB handbooks. Look them up.

    • independent thinker

      JC please provide some links about those instances, I would be interested in learning more about them.

  • DonnaAngelStar

    We do not need nor deserve a police state. Shame on the prosecutor for not upholding the rule of law. We the People are not guilty before being proved innocent and we certainly do not need testosterone driven police busting in doors and cowardly shooting citizens. Police abuse is becoming more the norm than not. I suppose they take their cue from DHS indocrinations.

  • Jake Thomas

    I pulled a gun on three individuals after I was assulted. They ran. I then call the police. Approximately 7 arrived and pulled their guns on me (my weapon was already locked up in my truck and I told that to the dispatcher). Before even talking to me, commands were being yelled at me. Some to put my hands over my head, some to put my hands out in front of me and some to not move – these were being yelled at the same time while my wife and 10 YO son stood next to me. I refused to move until one of the cops put me on the ground and cuffed me and then put me in the backseat of one of the cars. After about 5 min, they got me out of the backseat, removed the cuffs and drove away. Not even an apology or explanation why they did what they did. I can understand why their guns were drawn, but there should have only been 1 officer telling me what to do, not all of them.

    • freedom w

      Where did this occur?

      • Jake Thomas

        Hesperia, CA

  • Guest

    He should also sue the officers in civil court somehow police officers need to be held accountable. Hopefully he can bankrupt the cops and take a lot of money from the county. Seems like cops have a license to do whatever they want and then lie about everything. Have they fired these pigs yet!

  • http://www.facebook.com/wayne.spalding.9 Wayne Spalding

    These are some very troubling times we’re living in. I could write a book with all of the gun/police interaction I’ve had. Surprised I’m still alive. No one has every pressed any charges on me. Twice I’ve made the police return guns they’ve illegally taken. I’ve been in situations were I’ve wondered if the 31 rounds I had would be enough. I’m never without one within reach. From my cold dead hand, is more than a slogan.

    • Jeff

      Have you ever considered changing your lifestyle so you don’t need a gun every second? I’m getting close to 60 and have never needed a gun – ever!

      • http://www.facebook.com/wayne.spalding.9 Wayne Spalding

        I used to work in the towing industry and have had people follow me home, run into people at flea markets, grocery stores, concerts etc who don’t like me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I just can’t watch something wrong happening and not try to stop it. Broke my knee chasing somebody down, the only reason I did it was he was going to get away and the blue lights were 2 blocks away. I caught him. Stepped between a rapist and his intended victim, that guy almost killed me, but she got away. I’ve been threatened by family members who were pissed because I called CPS to report a abusive mother. The child was removed and the threats continued for weeks. Got home invaded, I almost killed that guy, and when the police arrived they wanted to arrest me for assaulting this unidentified suspect. I just can’t watch. And I pretty happy with the way I am.

        • Jeff

          Only one of those incidents sounded like you may have needed a gun. Sounds like you’d do just fine without one.

          • http://www.facebook.com/wayne.spalding.9 Wayne Spalding

            Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have one.

      • freedom w

        Times have changed! I used to not have to lock my door either.

        • Jeff

          We have two pretty large dogs, and we leave the back doors wide open. No problems in 10 years. Years ago I had some break-ins in other places. All they got were TVs and VCRs – nothing to shoot anybody over, particularly when you have insurance. Now, if you have guns in the house, THERE’s a target for burglars. Now, the TVs are too big to steal, the DVRs are the company’s, and the computer is pretty old. If somebody really wants that stuff, I guess they’ll get it. I have tons of books, but I don’t suppose burglars are too interested.

  • By George

    A no knock warrant is an abomination to the legal process. It tells the officers involved in such raids that they just might possess extraordinary protections in their actions. Clearly these officers thought that. But, they don’t! I have completed 43 years of active, front-line law enforcement and never, ever, did I find it necessary to violate the constitution in order to pursue an arrest or effect a legal search.

    Yet, we daily see evidence of ignorant (of the law) officers violating citizens rights on unconstitutional pretexts thought up on the spot to justify their actions. Temple, Texas comes to mind. It appears to me that uniformed police, formed up in shock troop squads, are starting to believe that maybe Obama is correct when he ignores the constitution because it’s inconvenient.

    America is in the beginning stages of a revolution. It has happened before. Between 1789 and 1791, the French had a splendid little revolution to overthrow the despotism of Church and State. The streets ran with the blood of aristocrats and clergy but the whole operation soon fell into the hands of a small group of ardent radicals who continued the slaughter until no one was left except the ardent radical themselves. The revolution soon consumed them too and war soon followed throughout all of Europe.

    The point I am making here is that when our own police forces forgo the lawful safeguards of the citizens they have sworn to protect, then the next inevitable step is to trash the laws (constitution), and make up rules as they go along. This must be resisted at all costs. Sheriff’s and Chief’s of Police must be reminded, before they get on a roll, what they can and cannot do in law enforcement. Local police have no obligation to support unlawful Federal Government actions. Think of Waco and Ruby Ridge.

    I can easily envision the day when some high government official, believing themselves immune, fall victim to a rough policeman somewhere who would simply claim “he feared for his safety”. That’s why almost all government officials now are surrounded by bodyguards but you are unable to defend yourself from either criminals or rogue cops. Nature is cruel and pitiless and it’s coming to us, here and now. Believe it!

  • Michael Shreve

    ANY evidence found in the search would have been inadmissible. There was NO search warrant.

  • Ibn Insha

    What kind of training sissy cops get that 2 of them could not handle a sleeping man. There is absolutely no justification for their actions no matter what the man claimed about owning 4 guns. He was sleeping and unarmed at the time of raid. The cops and their department should be sued out of existence. They are dangerous for citizens. Who needs them.

  • Eibenschotte

    I would happily contribute to his $uit.