Auburn, Washington resident Dustin Theoharis was asleep in his bed on February 11, 2012 when two armed strangers entered his room and started to give him orders. Understandably startled, Theoharis reached for a flashlight. This prompted the two intruders to open fire. Theoharis – who was still in bed —was shot sixteen times, but survived.
The assailants who shot Theoharis were Detective Aaron Thompson of the King County Sheriff’s Office and Corrections Officer Kris Rongen. They had arrested Theoharis’s roommate, Nicholas Harrison, an ex-convict who had failed to report for community supervision. The officers were searching his bedroom to find if Theoharis had a gun, which would have allowed them to charge Harrison with a parole violation. They had no warrant or probable cause, and no gun was found. Since Harrison was already in custody at the time of the incident, there was no need to conduct a “safety sweep” of the residence.
Immediately after the shots were fired, Detective Benjamin Wheeler – one of four other officers on the scene – went to the downstairs bedroom, where he found Theoharis lying in a pool of blood and the two officers who had shot him in what appeared to be a “state of shock.”
When Wheeler asked what happened, Thompson told him that the victim “told us he had four guns, and then he started reaching for one.” This was a lie. No gun was found in the bedroom. A rifle was found in a locked gun case in the room next door. Theoharis was asleep when the officers went into his darkened bedroom and began barking orders at him, and within ten seconds he had been perforated with sixteen shots.
By any reasonable definition, Detective Thompson and Officer Rongen committed the crime of attempted homicide. An internal review of the incident by the Sheriff’s Office found that neither Thompson nor Rongen had asked “anything about the occupant of the room, if there were weapons present or if the person permanently lived at the residence.” The officers were faulted for not taking the time to “determine a safe course of action” with four other detectives who were present.”
For its part, the Department of Corrections simply ruled that Rongen’s actions had followed department policies. Rongen, invoking the Fifth Amendment, had refused to cooperate with the investigation.
The King County Prosecutor decline to file criminal charges against either assailant, insisting that the shooting was justified because of a “perceived risk” to officer safety.
All police are taught to perceive all citizens as potential risks, and to put “officer safety” ahead of all other considerations. Does this mean they can shoot any of us at any time?