Seattle police officer Martin Harris is on administrative reassignment after he was charged with a misdemeanor assault for allegedly punching a man twice in the face.
The probable cause report, written by sergeant Gary Nelson, alleged that on March 5, Harris responded to a call by assaulting and unlawfully arresting a man, Paul Ensley, who refused to show the officer his identification at the First United Methodist Church. According to the probable cause statement, Harris grabbed hold of Ensley, attempted to take him to the ground, and struck him in the right eye twice.
SPD's force investigation team filed a complaint with the Office of Police Accountability, who then forwarded the case to Seattle detectives as a criminal investigation on March 21, OPA director Andrew Myerberg told PubliCola. SPD completed the investigation and referred the case to the city attorney's office on May 4.
Nelson's probable cause statement said Harris's account of the incident also conflicts with interviews conducted by SPD. The incident was captured on a body camera.
Harris accused Ensley of obstructing a public officer and assault. In the probable cause statement Harris wrote for Ensley's arrest, Harris claimed that he was "menacing" the church's staff, had lunged toward them in a threatening manner, was trespassing on the church's property, and bit one of the officers.
In Nelson's interviews, church staffers denied being approached threateningly and said they called because Ensley had been agitated, was potentially a threat to himself, and could be scaring away other patrons. They said he was a regular visitor who often charged his phone at an outdoor outlet, where Harris had found him.
“I’m thankful for the Seattle Police Department’s proactivity in sending this case to my office for review," city attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement. "We take these complaints seriously, and after taking an objective review of the incident, I felt assault was the appropriate charge to file.”
The OPA last year was contacted 1,325 times, which includes complaints of officer misconduct as well as case inquiries and public records requests, according to its annual report. Of those, 448 complaints turned into investigations. About one-third of those contacts come from within SPD itself.
If found guilty, a gross misdemeanor assault can hold a penalty of up to 364 days in jail or a $5,000 fine.