Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik wants the community to be confident the review is completely independent
Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik said the decision to outsource the review of the William Abbe officer-involved shooting investigation is the best way for the community to garner a sense of fairness in the system.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office finalized its investigation into the shooting and forwarded it to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office on May 28. Earlier this week, Golik announced that he was sending the investigation to the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s office for review.
“I think it serves all parties best if all investigations and legal reviews are done completely independently,’’ Golik told Clark County Today.
The 50-year-old Abbe was shot and killed by three Vancouver Police Department officers who responded to a report of a physical fight between Abbe and another man in the area of NE Stapleton Rd. and E. Fourth Plain Blvd. According to police reports, Abbe refused commands to drop sharpened objects he was holding. Three VPD officers then fired the fatal shots that killed Abbe.
Golik understands all too well that events of recent weeks, since the death of George Floyd while being taken into custody by officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, have created an intense focus on officer-involved shootings and use of force by police. However, he said his decision to send the Abbe review to Thurston County was born out of his long-standing views on the need for completely independent evaluations of investigations such as this.
“This is an issue that has been a topic of discussion among prosecutors, and in this particular case, a number of members of the community actually reached out and indicated they questioned the idea of the local prosecutor making the decision,’’ Golik said. “It’s a very legitimate point, a point I agree with. On these very sensitive cases, the idea is that the local prosecutor that works closely with the local law enforcement agency may not be the best route for a criminal review.
“I think we need to be willing to make changes in the system to respond to legitimate concerns that people are reaching these days,’’ Golik said. “I think it’s really imperative for everyone involved in these situations — the community, the involved officers, the law enforcement agencies and the families of people who have lost their lives.’’
Golik is confident the Thurston County prosecutor can view the case through an impartial and unbiased lens.
“I think what prosecutors should strive for in these cases moving forward is for the reviewing prosecutor to see names on a piece of paper of people that they don’t know and that they’ve never worked with,’’ Golik said. “I think that’s the best way to garner a sense of fairness in the system.’’
Golik believes that is the best way to avoid calls for a second review after the first review is completed.
“I think we need to work to avoid a situation where reviews are done by a local prosecutor and then there are calls from the community for a second review,’’ he said. “I think that situation can politicize these cases and I think that’s bad all around. So, my intent is to work to see a systemic change where these cases are regularly reviewed by a prosecutor outside the jurisdiction, a prosecutor’s office that’s well removed, or the attorney general’s office, so the community can have confidence. Families who have lost someone can have confidence and involved officers can have confidence that these situations do not become politicized.’’
It was Golik’s belief that sending the investigation to Skamania or Cowlitz counties was not far enough removed from Clark County, where the incident took place.
“I think that it’s been commonplace in conflict cases for prosecutors to go to an adjoining county, but I think in these cases it’s best to go even farther because, even in adjoining counties, oftentimes people know each other,’’ he said. “And in this particular case, there are three involved officers who’ve been with the department for a significant period of time. I thought it best to go a couple of counties over so everyone could be confident that this is truly a flat, unbiased professional review.’’
Citizens groups in Southwest Washington have raised the question as to whether or not an independent investigative team that was created after Abbe’s death satisfied Initiative 940, which went into effect earlier this year. The team was headed by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Battle Ground and Camas police departments but it did not include the required two community representatives from outside law enforcement.
Golik confirmed to Clark County Today that local agencies are still working to complete the recruitment process for potential community representatives to serve in that capacity.
“I will let that prosecutor’s office make that determination,’’ said Golik, when asked if the lack of community representatives on the independent investigative team would have an impact on the Abbe investigation review. “Anytime I send a case to that jurisdiction, I won’t weigh in on that case at that point. That would be inappropriate.’’
Just as he indicated the aftermath of the Floyd death didn’t impact his decision to send the Abbe investigation to Thurston County for review, Golik said he didn’t believe that current events would impact this case.
“My hope would be that all prosecutors would perform their function on the facts and the law of an individual case,’’ he said. “I’m confident the Thurston County prosecutor will do that. The things that are currently happening across the country are definitely generating significant discussion about making these sorts of systemic changes to increase independence and I think that’s a positive. I think that all law enforcement leaders should be willing to make operational changes like this in response to concerns that the public identifies. This concern is a legitimate one and it’s legitimate to make this systemic change, in my opinion.’’