The 19-year veteran has been placed on administrative reassignment.
A veteran Seattle police officer was charged Friday with fourth-degree assault for allegedly punching a man twice in the face during an arrest in March, according to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.
The officer, Martin Harris, 51, has been placed on administrative reassignment, according to a police online post.
Harris’ commanders filed a complaint with the Office for Police Accountability (OPA) for an alleged use of force violation and OPA referred the case to detectives for a criminal investigation, the post says. The case was then forwarded to the City Attorney’s Office for a charging decision.
According to a police report, Harris and another police officer responded to the First United Methodist Church at Second Avenue and Denny Way at 12:40 p.m. on March 5, where a 28-year-old man was outside yelling and gesturing at passing vehicles. Church employees had locked the doors, barring other people from entering, the report says.
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The 28-year-old is a regular at the church, which has a sign outside offering people help finding shelter, and he often uses an outdoor electrical outlet to charge his cell phone, says the police report. On its Facebook page, the church is described as “a progressive, spiritual community advocating for the homeless and hungry and creating a refuge of inclusive Christianity.”
When Harris and the other officer arrived, Harris introduced himself, notified the man he was being audio- and video-recorded, and told the man he was being asked to leave private property, the report says. Both officers were wearing body cameras and the incident was recorded.
When the 28-year-old asked why he was being asked to leave, Harris asked for his ID, and the man responded that the officer “looked kinda drunk,” says the report, which notes there is no evidence Harris had been drinking.
“Officer Harris then began demanding … (the man’s) ID and grabbed hold of him,” the report says. One minute and six seconds had elapsed since Harris first contacted the man, it says.
The officer hooked his arm around the man’s neck in an apparent effort to take him to the ground and repeatedly yelled at the man not to bite him, according to the report. The man ducked his head to his chest to stop Harris from getting an arm around his neck and yelled for the officer to stop putting his arm in the man’s mouth, says the report.
The second officer came to assist Harris, who struck the man twice in the right eye with a closed fist, the report says.
The man was taken into custody and charged with obstructing an officer and misdemeanor assault, though it does not appear from the police report that the man actually bit Harris. The police report says Harris did not have probable cause to arrest the man.
In his report about the incident, Harris claimed the man was “menacing” church employees and had “approached staff in what they described as a threatening manner, lunging toward them,” says the police report.
In later interviews with the detective assigned to investigate the case against Harris, the church employees refuted those claims. The employees said they called police because the man was agitated, possibly a threat to himself, and likely to scare away other clients, the report says.
The second officer at the scene told the detective the man Harris arrested was “turtled up,” with his arms pulled in and his hands clasped, says the report.
Harris defended punching the man, saying it was necessary “because he believed he was being bitten,” the report says.
Harris was hired by Seattle police in 1999, according to a Seattle Times database.
The man arrested by Harris spent 15 days in the King County Jail before posting $1,000 bail, jail records show. According to court records, the misdemeanor charges against him were dismissed on April 12.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.