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Man Shot 16 Times by Officers Files $20M Claim

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 16, 2013 1:10 PM

An innocent, unarmed man who was shot 16 times by officers in Washington state is seeking $20 million for his injuries, from which he'll likely never fully recover.

Dustin Theoharis, 30, was lying in bed in his basement apartment when two officers -- a King County sheriff's deputy and a state Department of Corrections officer -- stormed in while pursuing a suspect. In a moment of confusion, they opened fire and shot Theoharis 16 times.

Theoharis has undergone a dozen surgeries, and will be receiving a $3 million payout from King County, Seattle's KING-TV reports. But now he wants the Department of Corrections to pay up too.

Barrage of Injuries

Among Theoharis' injuries, he suffered "a broken shoulder, two broken arms, broken legs, he had a compression fracture to his spine, [and] damage to his liver and spleen," his lawyer told KING-TV. Theoharis also recently underwent facial reconstructive surgery.

The officers, however, insisted they acted pursuant to policy because they thought Theoharis was reaching for a gun. Both the sheriff's office and the DOC found the shooting to be justified.

So how is Theoharis able to file a $20 million claim against the DOC?

Before a Lawsuit Is Filed

Generally, there are certain steps you must take before you can sue the police or another government entity. The first step is to file a tort claim against the government. Here, Theoharis and his attorneys filed a $20 million tort claim against the Washington Department of Corrections.

Victims of alleged police brutality or excessive force can sue a variety of people and entities under a federal law, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Depending on the circumstances, this can include law enforcement officers along with city, county, and state governments.

You can sue the individual officers as well as their supervisors for any injuries and violations of your rights. It's important to remember, however, that officers are given great deference and are often able to successfully claim qualified immunity.

Perhaps fortunately for Theoharis, his $20 million claim was filed on the heels of a scathing report that was critical of the officers' actions. In a statement, the Washington Department of Corrections said it would "wait until after the claim is resolved" before commenting, KING-TV reports.

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