City prosecutors on Friday charged a Seattle police officer with misdemeanor assault for allegedly punching a man twice in the eye during an unlawful arrest.
Ofc. Martin Harris, 51, also write information in a police report that conflicted with witness testimony, according to an affidavit submitted by SPD Sergeant Gary Nelson, who investigated the case.
Harris is on administrative reassignment, according to a police blotter entry. Gross misdemeanor assault carries a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail or a $5,000 fine.
The incident was captured by body cameras, but video of the alleged assault will not be released to the public until the court process is complete, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s office said.
The description in this post is based on Nelson’s affidavit.
On the afternoon of March 5, Harris and Ofc. Samuel Cook responded to a report of a man, Paul Ensley, “yelling” and “pacing” outside the First United Methodist Church on Denny Way.
Harris approached Ensley on a walkway owned by the church. He notified Ensley that he was on private property and that church employees wanted him to move.
Ensley asked why, adding, “Can you verify this?”
Harris asked for his identification. Ensley refused and accused Harris of being drunk. The officer asked Ensley if he would like to speak to his supervisor, to which Ensley responded yes.
In a span of about one minute and six seconds, Harris allegedly grabbed Ensley after demanding his identification, appeared to take Ensley to the ground by hooking his arm around Ensley’s neck, yelled “don’t bite” several times, and struck Ensley twice in the right eye with a closed fist. The punch caused bruising to Ensley’s eye and surrounding tissue.
Harris also misrepresented the events leading up to the alleged assault, according to Nelson’s affidavit. In a police report, Harris wrote that Ensley “menaced” church staff and approached them in a “threatening manner.” He also wrote that Ensley had previously been trespassed from the church.
In interviews with Nelson, church staff disputed that characterization, saying they were neither menaced nor approached in a threatening manner, and that Ensley hadn’t been trespassed from the property.
“Officer Harris committed the crime of assault 12A.06.010 when first taking hold of Ensley, arresting him without probable cause, and then striking him in an effort to get Ensley to comply with an unlawful arrest,” Nelson wrote.
Ensley was booked in King County Jail on a charges of obstruction and assault. He was released 15 days later after posting $1,000 bail, according to jail records. Seattle Municipal Court dismissed the charges against him.
Harris’ chain of command filed a complaint over the alleged assault with the Office of Police Accountability, which investigates misconduct accusations against Seattle police officers. OPA forwarded the case to Seattle detectives to investigate the matter.
City Attorney Pete Holmes released the following statement regarding the charges:
I’m thankful for the Seattle Police Department’s proactivity in sending this case to my office for review. We take these complaints seriously, and after taking an objective review of the incident, I felt assault was the appropriate charge to file.