A Wrongful Police Shooting During An Illegal Search

Illegal searches and excessive force by police sometimes go hand-in-hand. This was the case in 2012 when two officers entered the bedroom of a Seattle-area man and shot him 16 times as he lay in his own bed. Remarkably, the man survived this wrongful police shooting. He hired Budge & Heipt to represent him in a wrongful shooting case against the King County Sheriff’s deputy and the Department of Corrections officer who wrongfully shot him.

The victim, Dustin Theoharis, was staying in a lower-level bedroom in the home of a family friend. Mr. Theoharis had no criminal record. But a family member of the home-owner did have a criminal record and was under supervision from the Washington Department of Corrections. One afternoon, an armed DOC officer and King County Sheriff’s deputies showed up at the house to arrest the family member for allegedly failing to report under the terms of his community supervision. Having arrested the man, they decided to go a step further and search the entire house—including the room where Mr. Theoharis was staying (and sleeping). During the course of the search, the officers unleashed a barrage of gunfire on the man. Although no weapon belonging to the man was ever found, the officers claimed that the man had made a threatening move that justified their use of deadly force. We disagreed.

We argued that the entry into Mr. Theoharis’s room was illegal in the first place and that the use of deadly force could not be justified. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. Of course, police officers rarely admit their wrongdoing, and it took a lawsuit to prove many of our points. The defense claimed that they had a right to go into our client’s bedroom, even without a warrant. But a federal judge ruled that our client had a constitutional right of privacy to his bedroom and that entering it without a warrant was presumptively unconstitutional. Working with top experts in ballistics, law enforcement, medicine, forensics and other fields, we were also able to cast serious doubt on the officers’ stories about why they shot our client. Eventually, the lawyers at Budge & Heipt won a $5.5 million settlement.

Fortunately for Mr. Theoharis, he not only survived the shooting, but he was able to move on with his life with financial security. Sometimes, as with this case, it takes ordinary citizens such as Mr. Theoharis, together with experienced counsel, to “police the police.”

Edwin Budge has been representing clients in civil rights cases for more than 20 years. He focuses his energy and passion into seeking justice in cases involving wrongful death by police shootings. Contact Budge & Heipt for a free consultation.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.