Sheriff Adam Fortney (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Sheriff Adam Fortney (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Lawsuit alleges ‘vicious assault’ on man by Fortney, deputies

Paul Barracliffe was punched, Tased and bitten by a dog. Deputies reported he resisted arrest.

EVERETT — A new lawsuit alleging the “vicious assault” of a man in 2018 has been filed against Sheriff Adam Fortney and several deputies.

The deputies include two who were fired by the previous sheriff for alleged policy violations: Art Wallin and Matt Boice. Shortly after becoming sheriff, Fortney reinstated both deputies, who he worked alongside for years.

Other deputies named in the lawsuit are Jason Harris, Ronald Smarr, Nathan Smith and Jack Yilmaz. The complaint was filed on July 1 in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said the sheriff’s office could not comment on pending litigation.

Art Wallin

Art Wallin

The plaintiff, 34-year-old Paul Barracliffe II, alleges the deputies violated his constitutional rights in September 2018 when they repeatedly used a Taser on him, repeatedly punched him and ordered a police dog to attack him after he was handcuffed. He is represented by attorneys Ada Wong and Jordan Wada of AKW Law in Mountlake Terrace. They wrote that Barracliffe had bipolar disorder, diagnosed after a traumatic brain injury he suffered when he was assaulted 12 years ago in Seattle.

Matt Boice

Matt Boice

During his arrest, Barracliffe was “unarmed, did not resist, and has mental health problems,” a news release states.

“What they did was beyond any bounds of decency and they need to be held accountable for their actions,” Wong said in a statement. “What was a simple call for a mental health wellness check escalated into a young, helpless man being pinned to the floor, tased, and violently beaten by multiple officers. This is unacceptable.”

At some point, the deputies had apparently developed probable cause for Baracliffe’s arrest. He initially was charged in October 2018 in Snohomish County Superior Court with first-degree trafficking in stolen property, a felony. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in May 2019 and was sentenced to one year in jail and two years of probation. In charging papers, prosecutors listed three previous misdemeanor convictions in Barracliffe’s criminal history. He had no felonies. Since his reported traumatic brain injury, prosecutors noted, Barracliffe has been in and out of jails and mental institutions.

Charging papers indicated Barracliffe had returned to Washington not long before his arrest. 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 didn’t think he would act on them.

Prosecutors confirmed there was an altercation. According to the charges, deputies — including then-Sgt. Fortney — responded to the family’s duplex on East Gibson Road south of Everett on Sept. 26 for a report of a male who was acting violent. Reportedly, deputies told Barracliffe he was under arrest, but he resisted attempts to be handcuffed and “had to be taken to the ground.”

“Once on the ground, he continued to resist and until a taser was actually used,” prosecutors wrote. “Even after being handcuffed, he continued to attempt to resist during the time of his contact with the deputies.”

Prosecutors did not note the presence or the use of a police dog. A use of force report written by Wallin, and reviewed by The Herald, stated a police dog was used to bite Barracliffe in the lower leg because he was refusing to comply.

The Daily Herald has made a public records request with the sheriff’s office for reports related to the incident. Under state law, government agencies have five days to respond to a public records request, though often it takes longer to fulfill one.

Baracliffe’s complaint told a different story than the one given by prosecutors.

According to the lawsuit, the sheriff’s deputies responded to the duplex when Barracliffe’s mother called 911 “specifically for the purpose of having a mental health check” following what was described as an earlier disagreement between Barracliffe and his sister. Attorneys representing Barracliffe wrote that he sat quietly on a couch in the living room when deputies arrived. They did not knock or announce themselves, according to the complaint. The boyfriend of one of Barracliffe’s sisters reportedly cracked open the door when the deputies suddenly “barged through the door and rushed inside,” Barracliffe’s attorneys wrote.

The civil attorneys wrote Barracliffe put his hands up in the air and said, “I’m cooperating.” The deputies allegedly pulled him off the couch and onto the floor, then dragged him into the kitchen.

There, he allegedly was beaten by seven deputies and shocked at least six times by three deputies, “all while screaming in pain and holding his arms in front of his face attempting to protect his head as he was lying helpless on the floor,” according to a statement by the attorneys. The lawsuit claims Boice discharged his Taser three times and that Fortney deployed his twice.

According to the lawsuit, once he was handcuffed, deputies took him outside, where Deputy Wallin allegedly instructed his canine to attack Barracliffe. Attorneys claim the dog held its bite on Barracliffe’s ankle for 30 seconds, requiring immediate aid.

Deputies then allegedly put a hood over Barracliffe’s head and took him in a patrol car to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, his attorneys wrote. He reportedly was transferred to Harborview Medical Center due to his injuries. He “suffered severe physical injuries to his head, face, eyes, back, legs, foot, and ankle,” according to the complaint.

Attorneys shared photos of the scene with The Herald, showing blood smears on the kitchen floor and what appear to be bloody fingerprints on a refrigerator.

The lawsuit notes previous use of force incidents that Wallin has been part of, including the shooting and killing of 24-year-old Nickolas Peters. The sheriff’s office launched an internal investigation into that case, resulting in Wallin’s firing — a decision Fortney later reversed. In January, the county paid out $1 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Peters’ family.

Wallin and deputy Smith are also the subjects of another lawsuit, filed in January, alleging they inappropriately used a police dog to subdue a man when no crime had been identified at the scene. That case has not yet reached a conclusion.

Boice was one of the deputies fired by former Sheriff Ty Trenary for allegedly violating policy during a warrantless search of a car in 2017. Fortney rehired him, too.

In Barracliffe’s lawsuit, attorneys wrote that Snohomish County was “deliberately indifferent to the fact that its inadequate, incomplete, and reckless policies, procedures, and customs would be the animating force behind its officers using unnecessary and unreasonable force.”

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.

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

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