Opinion: Not guilty verdict appropriate resolution in case of VPD officer

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance offers his praise to the jury in the trial of Vancouver Police Officer Andrea Mendoza.
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Editor Ken Vance is encouraged that the jury verdict in Clark County District Court may signal a return for community support for law enforcement

Ken Vance, editor
Clark County Today

The trial of Vancouver Police Officer Andrea Mendoza ended Monday when the jury of her peers found the officer not guilty of the charges brought against her by the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. I did not attend the trial, nor did I sit on the jury. But, if I had, I’m very confident I would have adamantly, loudly and forcibly, demanded the same verdict.

Ken Vance
Ken Vance

I will be the first to admit that Officer Mendoza’s actions in the incident that led to her being charged were unorthodox, uncomfortable, worthy of examination, and even deserving scrutiny. But, I think the verdict reflects the desire of our society to once again allow law enforcement officers to do their job, which is to protect us from criminals, even if desperate moments necessitate unorthodox or uncomfortable measures.

The incident that led to an assault charge for Officer Mendoza occurred in May of last year. Mendoza was one of two VPD officers who responded to the report of a theft from the Walmart store located at 221 NE 104th Ave. The call to 9-1-1 offered the description of two suspects, one of whom was Elijah Guffey-Prejean. One of the suspects fled, but VPD Officer Gabriel Patterson was able to grab hold of Guffey-Prejean in an attempt to detain him. Guffey-Prejean resisted the detention and began actively fighting with the officers, punching Officer Patterson in the face and kicking Officer Mendoza in the chest. Guffey-Prejean also caused a hand injury to Officer Mendoza during the struggle. 

Officer Mendoza attempted the use of a taser to Guffey-Prejean’s back, which was unsuccessful. She then pulled Guffey-Prejean’s pants down and held the taser against his genitalia, saying, “Knock it off or I’ll do it to your nuts.” The move appeared to be effective, as Guffey-Prejean yelled, “I’m done!” and appeared to stop fighting and cooperate with officers. Guffey-Prejean was then placed into handcuffs without further incident. During his interview with Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik, Guffey-Prejean said that although the incident was “kind of embarrassing,” he did not want to be named as a victim of any crime. In fact, he made similar statements multiple times throughout the probable cause statement. Regardless, Golik moved forward with the charges against Officer Mendoza. Guffey-Prejean stated during testimony for the prosecution that he was intending to continue his fight with officers until he felt the metal of the taser against his “junk.” At that point, he stopped fighting immediately and gave into the arrest. 

I know there will be those who read this column and suggest that Officer Mendoza’s tactics were extreme or unnecessary. That they violated the suspect’s rights. That she should have been able to detain him by using other techniques or measures. That sentiment would fall on deaf ears with me. Critics of Officer Mendoza weren’t in her shoes during that incident. They didn’t see this shoplifter punch her fellow officer in the face. They didn’t get kicked in the chest by this suspect. 

Furthermore, it is my strong opinion that when there is reasonable and probable cause that a suspect has committed a crime, law enforcement has the right to try to detain the suspect. Even if the suspect turns out to be innocent of the crime he is suspected of, if he resists arrest and assaults a law enforcement officer, he must understand there are consequences to such actions.

I have a personal history with an incident where someone close to me was aggressively detained by a law enforcement officer. This incident took place many years ago in a different jurisdiction. The person close to me was being detained for an alcohol-related traffic violation. During the stop, he committed an action that the officer interpreted as resisting, even though he later told me he absolutely was not resisting. Whether or not the officer misinterpreted the action is irrelevant. The officer used physical force to successfully take the person dear to me under arrest.

I was hurt and angry at the thought that someone I cared deeply for was treated poorly by a member of law enforcement. I shared the story with my then father-in-law. I was critical of the officer. My then father-in-law, in all his wisdom, calmly told me that when the person dear to me broke the law, he set off a chain of events that led to certain circumstances, and the officer was well within his rights to do what was necessary to detain him. My father-in-law’s words hurt me deeply at that moment. Now, some 40 years later, I’m repeating those words to you because I fully agree.

In recent years, without recounting everything that has taken place in our world, members of our society have attempted to implement measures that, no pun intended, have handcuffed our officers. That has to stop. We have to allow our law enforcement officials the leash necessary to make difficult decisions in the split of a second when lives are on the line. And, we need to live with the consequences. I want to live in a community where I feel safe, and I feel safer when we support our officers and give them the authority to do their jobs. 

I don’t know the members of the jury that came to the verdict of not guilty in the Mendoza trial, but I applaud them. I also applaud Officer Mendoza for serving and protecting our community.

Editor’s note: I reached out to Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik, asking him via email and voicemail for an explanation of his decision to charge Officer Mendoza with Assault IV and an explanation as to why he dropped the charges of Assault III and Theft III against Elijah Guffey-Prejean. Golik has not responded to that request for an explanation. This column will be updated if he responds.

POLL: Do you agree with the decision of the jury that Vancouver Police Officer Andrea Mendoza was not guilty of assault?*
302 votes

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