Dustin Theoharis doesn’t like to talk about the day he was shot 16 times. Neither do the officers who shot him, so it’s hard to describe exactly how it unfolded.
What’s clear is that on February 11, 2012, several law-enforcement officers entered a house in Auburn, Washington, where Theoharis happened to be renting a room. They detained the homeowner’s son, who was wanted for violating his parole conditions. Then two of the officers pushed through a pair of French doors into the dark former storage space where Theoharis, 28 at the time, was sleeping.
Conflicting accounts make the next several seconds fuzzy. Kristopher Rongen, an officer with the Washington State Department of Corrections, has told the story this way: He announced “Police, police, show your hands” in a loud voice, but Theoharis refused to do so. Rongen asked Theoharis whether he had weapons, and Theoharis admitted that he had three—then added “right here” and moved to sweep the floor with his hand. Rongen and the second officer, Aaron Thompson, a detective with the King County Sheriff’s Office, feared that Theoharis was reaching for a gun and opened fire. (Both officers declined to be interviewed.)
Theoharis, meanwhile, says that he didn’t have any guns. He remembers being startled by two strangers standing at the end of the bed—cops, no less. He says that they asked for identification, so he reached for his wallet. That’s when they started shooting. No one disputes that the officers hit both of Theoharis’s legs, both of his arms, his shoulder, and his abdomen. One bullet edged his jaw. Another lodged in his back. Theoharis fell to the floor, writhing in pain with 16 bullet holes in his body.