VPD and CCSO respond to request for U.S. Department of Justice investigation

NAACP of SW Washington and ACLU of Washington ask for the DOJ to investigate alleged pattern and practice of excessive uses of force and alleged discriminatory policing 

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) have responded to a letter drafted by the NAACP of SW Washington and the ACLU of Washington to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting they investigate the VPD and the CCSO for an alleged pattern and practice of excessive uses of force and alleged discriminatory policing.

“The Vancouver Police Department recognizes and respects the value of all human life and dignity without prejudice to anyone,’’ read a statement from the VPD late Wednesday. “The Department is committed as a professional law enforcement organization to continuous improvement to lawfully and equitably protect the safety of all community members we serve. The use of force by law enforcement personnel is a matter of critical concern, both to the public and to the law enforcement community. Officers must have an understanding of, and true appreciation for, their authority and limitations.’’

NAACP of SW Washington and ACLU of Washington ask for the DOJ to investigate alleged pattern and practice of excessive uses of force and alleged discriminatory policing.
File photo.

The news release included a statement from Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain. 

“We appreciate the long-standing relationships we have with our community partners including, the NAACP of SW Washington, LULAC, and the Chief’s Diversity Advisory Team, and are committed to continuing to build and strengthen these connections and create opportunities for the police and the community to work together on initiatives to improve police and community relations, increase transparency and reduce police use of force incidents,” McElvain said. 

The statement added, “The Vancouver Police Department is fully prepared to cooperate with any inquiry or investigation that may stem from this letter.’’

Sheriff Chuck Atkins stated, “The Clark County Sheriff’s Office is accredited through the international Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and has been so for over 30 years.  The standards adhered to as part of the accreditation are the national best practices.  Several of these standards deal directly with the bias-based policing and application of policy, training, prohibition against biased based policing, and admirative review of the agency practices including citizen concerns and corrective measures. 

“As Sheriff, I have always been committed and believe in the process,’’ Atkins added. “The Clark County Sheriff’s office is dedicated to the citizens of Clark County and transparency of the organization.’’ 

The statements from the VPD and CCSO came the same day news of the letter was made public by the NAACP Vancouver Branch 1139 and the ACLU of Washington. The letter was signed by 21 organizations and sent to the DOJ on Wednesday.

The organizations “assert that VPD and CCSO have engaged in a pattern and practice of violating civil rights by using unnecessary and excessive force against Vancouver and Clark County residents of color, residents experiencing homelessness, and those with a mental health disability, and engaging in discriminatory policing harmful to communities of color while showing favoritism to known white supremacist extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.

“The request comes after officers in Vancouver and Clark County killed eight people over a two-and-a-half-year period from February 2019 through October 2021. Five of the victims were men of color, including three Black men and two men of Pacific Islander heritage – in a county where those groups together account for about 3% of the population. The remaining three victims were men experiencing homelessness as well as a mental health crisis.’’

The organizations are asking the DOJ to investigate excessive force and discriminatory policing allegations under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

“VPD and CCSO have sustained one of the highest rates of police killings in Washington for years. Their continued pattern of lethal force and victim blaming, particularly when engaging with Black and Brown people or those in crisis, shows these departments are not taking responsibility or changing on their own,” said Enoka Herat, police practices and immigration counsel at the ACLU of Washington. “Federal intervention is necessary for all residents in Clark County to receive equal and fair treatment, constitutional policing, and to feel safe in their communities.”

There have been three officer-involved shootings involving area law enforcement in the past year.

On Oct. 29, 2020, Camas resident Kevin Peterson, Jr., a 21-year-old Black man, was killed in an officer-involved shooting incident in Hazel Dell. The Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office concluded an independent review of the incident, involving CCSO officers, and determined the use of deadly force was justified and lawful.

On Feb. 4, 2021, a review by the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys into the Feb. 4 officer-involved shooting death of Battle Ground resident Jenoah Donald, a 30-year-old Black man, found that the actions of a CCSO deputy were legally justified. The statewide panel of prosecutors included representatives from Lewis, Pend Oreille, Pierce, Snohomish and Yakima counties. The panel issued their findings in a letter to Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik.

The Oct. 17, 2021 officer-involved shooting death of Kfin Karuo, a 28-year-old Vancouver resident of a Chuukese descent (Micronesia), is currently under investigation by the Southwest Washington Independent Investigative Response Team. Prior to the incident, probable cause existed to arrest Karuo, for Assault I related to an incident that occurred on Sept. 29. He was shot and killed by CCSO officers during a traffic stop.

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