Deputies: ‘Abnormal strength’ led to forceful arrest in 2018

Newly released reports give Snohomish County deputies’ side in a case that’s now central to a lawsuit.

EVERETT — In their initial reports, seven Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies described how a man resisted arrest “using every ounce of energy” in September 2018, even as they punched him, shocked him with a Taser and ordered a police dog to bite him.

Paul Barracliffe II, 34, is now suing the deputies for their use of force — what his attorneys called a “vicious assault” on an unarmed man who wasn’t resisting. The complaint, filed July 1 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, names the seven deputies involved in the incident, including now-Sheriff Adam Fortney.

Barracliffe alleges deputies violated his constitutional rights during the arrest at his family’s duplex on East Gibson Road, south of Everett. He is represented by Ada Wong and Jordan Wada of AKW Law in Mountlake Terrace. They wrote Barracliffe had bipolar disorder, diagnosed after a traumatic brain injury he suffered when he was assaulted 12 years ago in Seattle.

The lawsuit demands payment for damages, including for physical, mental and emotional injury, and for injunctive relief to reform the policies, practices and customs of the sheriff’s office that led to the harm of Barracliffe.

Comparing the deputies’ accounts with the civil complaint, details of the encounter align in some instances, but contrast dramatically in others. Primarily, the lawsuit claims Barracliffe didn’t resist efforts to arrest him. Or if he did resist, he wasn’t in a position to do much as he was being held down by up to six deputies.

Deputies reported the 6-foot-2 and 215-pound suspect resisted throughout the whole encounter with “super human like strength.” And while he never attacked deputies, reports say they worried an assault could be imminent and that he would gain access to weapons if he broke free.

“Since I began my law enforcement career in 2012, I have been in several physical altercations,” Deputy Jason Harris wrote in his report. “I cannot remember a time in which a suspect was able to resist arrest with such strength.”

Before using force, the deputies reportedly weighed several factors, per policy: the severity of the crime, the suspect’s immediate risk to law enforcement and others, and whether he was actively resisting or attempting to escape.

The Daily Herald obtained the reports through a public records request. Sheriff’s spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said the agency could not comment on pending litigation. In an answer to the complaint filed on July 28, sheriff’s office attorneys acknowledged Barracliffe had been injured, but denied many of the allegations and disputed key details of the encounter.

On Sept. 26, 2018, Barracliffe’s mother and sister had called 911 shortly after midnight. According to deputies’ reports, his mother was whispering and hiding in the bathroom, and quickly disconnected her call because she was scared. He reportedly was described as violent, though it was unclear if any criminal behavior was taking place that night. Dispatch first coded the call as a physical domestic violence response, deputies reported.

Barracliffe’s civil attorneys characterized the 911 call as “a simple call for a mental health wellness check.”

The reports also don’t make clear if the callers knew whether the deputies had planned to arrest Barracliffe that night. A couple days prior, they had established probable cause to arrest Barracliffe for investigation of fourth-degree domestic violence assault, trafficking in stolen property and malicious mischief. Under state law, domestic violence assault requires a mandatory arrest.

In the incident on Sept. 24, 2018, family members reported to sheriff’s deputies that while Barracliffe stayed with his sister, he damaged some of her property and stole three televisions, which he tried to sell at a pawn shop. According to the sister, Barracliffe pushed her into her car that same day, causing pain in her shoulder. He then reportedly threatened her, though she said her brother often makes threatening comments and she didn’t think he would act on them.

According to Barracliffe’s attorneys, his sister’s boyfriend cracked open the door shortly after midnight on Sept. 26, 2018, when the deputies suddenly “barged through the door and rushed inside.” They did not knock or announce themselves, the attorneys wrote.

Deputy Nathan Smith reported he knocked on the front door and a man answered. Smith wrote he identified himself as law enforcement and asked if he could go inside. The man hesitated and didn’t respond. Smith wrote he asked again, and that time the man stepped aside to let in the deputies.

Barracliffe reportedly was sitting on the couch, watching television, when deputies entered the home. He told them he lived there and didn’t do anything wrong, according to deputies’ reports.

The civil attorneys wrote Barracliffe put his hands up in the air and said, “I’m cooperating.” They alleged the deputies pulled him off the couch and onto the floor, then dragged him into the kitchen, where they beat and shocked him with a Taser.

Deputies painted a different picture.

Deputy Harris noted they were at an advantageous position to arrest Barracliffe because he was still on the couch. But when a deputy attempted to move his arms so they could handcuff him, Barracliffe began to “statically resist by flexing his arms.”

“Although there were several deputies attempting to put Barracliffe’s hands behind his back, Barracliffe was able to use his abnormal strength to prevent us from being able to take control,” Harris wrote.

Barracliffe continued resisting, deputies wrote, by flexing, pulling away and screaming.

Deputy Matt Boice reported he attempted a lateral vascular neck restraint by wrapping his arm around Barracliffe’s neck. Barracliffe reportedly pushed backward into Boice with his legs and the two toppled to the floor, closer to the kitchen. There, the suspect thrashed his arms and rolled on the ground, deputies reported, making it difficult for them to put him in handcuffs safely.

As they struggled on the floor, deputies worried Barracliffe might break free and get a knife or another potential weapon from the kitchen, according to the reports. One deputy wrote he was concerned Barracliffe could grab a weapon off of them, too, if he freed one of his arms.

Harris said he used his Taser on Barracliffe, apparently to no effect. A deputy yelled “stop grabbing me,” Harris wrote. So he tried the Taser again to Barracliffe’s upper thigh. Again, nothing appeared to happen.

“Barracliffe’s resistance seemed to increase as we attempted to take him into custody,” Harris wrote. “Barracliffe’s resistance had transitioned from static to aggressive as he grabbed deputies, displayed uncommon strength, and ignored several orders to, ‘Stop resisting.’”

Harris wrote he punched Barracliffe in the face “in an attempt to distract him and soften his resistance.” When Barracliffe continued to struggle, Harris punched him again, according to his report.

Deputy Smith wrote he also punched Barracliffe several times throughout the altercation.

Deputy Matt Boice reported using his Taser on Barracliffe’s upper thigh, causing him to lock up. He wrote he activated his Taser for a total of three cycles.

Fortney saw that Barracliffe’s pants had fallen down during the scuffle. He reported he put his Taser into drive stun mode and deployed it twice on Barracliffe’s buttocks. The Taser seemed to work, as Barracliffe yelled out “Ow!” each time.

At some point, Deputy Art Wallin ordered his police dog to bite Barracliffe. Civil attorneys claim Barracliffe was outside and already in handcuffs when he was bit. Wallin reported the deputies were still struggling with Barracliffe inside the home when he ordered the bite. Wallin wrote the bite was held for about 30 seconds and drew no reaction from Barracliffe.

Eventually, deputies were able to put Barracliffe’s hands behind his back and handcuff him.

After the arrest, Barracliffe talked nonstop and jumped from topic to topic, according to deputies’ reports.

“In one breath he thanked me for my public service and then was cursing me in the next breath,” Fortney wrote. “I heard him say we had, ‘beat the (expletive) out of him for no reason’ and that he would be contacting a lawyer to sue us. He asked me several times if I knew Jesus Christ and then would repeat that he was working for him again. It was clear to me that Paul was having a very severe mental health episode.”

Fortney noted Barracliffe’s right eye was swollen shut and he had a cut over his left eye that was bleeding heavily. There also was blood on the kitchen floor, and deputies had gotten “small amounts” of his blood on their uniforms, Fortney wrote.

Medics reportedly took Barracliffe’s vitals and cleaned his face, but provided no other treatment and determined he did not receive life-threatening injuries. He had a slightly elevated heart rate, consistent with having just been in a struggle, according to reports. The medics reportedly gave the OK to transport Barracliffe to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett by patrol car.

At the hospital, Fortney noted Barracliffe had two to three small punctures on his left ankle from the dog bite, and that the suspect didn’t remember being bitten.

“He thought we were crazy because he kept saying, ‘I don’t even own a dog,’” Fortney wrote. “I had to explain to him that it was a police dog and then he seemed to understand.”

Barracliffe was transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle due to bleeding behind his right eye. According to deputies, doctors indicated it was a precautionary measure.

After the arrest, Barracliffe’s sister and mother reportedly said they supported the actions taken by the deputies that night, according to police reports. His mother said she hoped he would get help for his mental health.

The mother reportedly told deputies she recently bought Barracliffe a car, and that he used it to travel the country. During that period, he spent time in jail for unspecified crimes and at mental health institutions, she reported. Both she and Barracliffe’s sister reportedly said they were scared of him.

After the arrest, Barracliffe was charged with first-degree trafficking in stolen property, a felony, in Oct. 2018 in Snohomish County Superior Court. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in May 2019 and was sentenced to one year in jail and two years of probation.

In the civil case, attorneys have not yet proposed a date for a jury trial.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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