Seattle police officer charged with assaulting man during unlawful arrest

File photo

SEATTLE - A Seattle police officer was charged Friday with assault after he allegedly slugged a man twice in the eye during an unlawful arrest in March that was captured on the officer's body cam, court documents say.

The officer, identified as Martin J. Harris, could face up to a year in jail or a $5,000 fine if convicted, said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.

According to the court file in the case, Harris and a second officer were dispatched in response to a report of a man yelling and pacing outside First United Methodist Church, 180 Denny Way, on the afternoon of March 5.

After arriving at the scene, Harris began talking with a man who matched the description in the dispatch report. When the man refused to show Officer Harris his ID, Harris began using force against the man, court documents say.

According to the case file, Harris first grabbed the man's arm, then tried to take him to the ground while yelling, "Don't bite me!" He then slugged the man twice in the right eye with his fist, court documents say.

The man was then taken into custody and booked into the King County Jail.

Later, the Seattle Office of Police Accountability received a complaint and requested that the arrest be reviewed.

A review of Harris' body cam footage showed that Harris began using force against the man one minute and six seconds after first contacting him, court documents say.

The review also found that the man assaulted and arrested by Harris had not threatened anyone and church officials said he often came by the church and used an outdoor outlet there to charge his phone, according to court records. A sign outside the church also says that "no trespassing" hours are from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., but the man was arrested at around 12:45 p.m.

The man also told investigators he had refused to show his ID to Officer Harris because he thought Harris was drunk, according to the case file. (The review found this was not true.) The man offered instead to show his ID to the other officer at the scene, but Harris did not give him that option, the review found.

In his own defense, Officer Harris said he believed he was justified in hitting the man because he thought the man was biting him. But body cam video showed that the man was not biting Harris, according to the case file.

The investigating officer concluded that Harris had committed the crime of assault against the man by "first taking hold of (the man), arresting him without probable cause, and then striking him in an effort to get (him) to comply with an unlawful arrest," court documents say.

After reviewing the file, the city filed a charge of gross misdemeanor assault against Officer Harris.

“I’m thankful for the Seattle Police Department’s proactivity in sending this case to my office for review," Holmes said. "We take these complaints seriously, and after taking an objective review of the incident, I felt assault was the appropriate charge to file.”

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