HAZEL DELL, Wash. — The family of Jenoah Donald, a 30-year-old Black man on the autism spectrum who was shot and killed by Clark County Deputies in February 2021, is filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
Shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 4, 2021, Clark County deputies were responding to the 6500 block of NW Jordan Way for a report of suspicious activity. Since June 2020, there had been than 40 calls for service to an address in the area, according to authorities.
While on the way to respond to the call, deputy Sean Boyle noticed Donald’s bronze-colored Mercedes Benz leaving the area with a taillight out. Boyle pulled Donald over just north of the intersection of NE 2nd Avenue and 68th Street. Donald provided the deputy with his driver’s license but could not produce registration or insurance documents. While Boyle walked back to his car, deputy Troupe, one of the two other deputies who had responded to the traffic stop as back up, came up to the passenger side of Donald’s car.
Troupe told investigators she was concerned about a “ball-handled” object with a 3- to 4-inch sharpened “stake” on the end that was near the center console. Donald had a number of tools, including the screwdriver Troupe had seen, visible in the center portion of his vehicle, evidence photos later showed.
According to law enforcement, Troupe instructed Donald to keep his hands visible but he did not. Upon hearing deputy Troupe’s instruction to show his hands, Boyle walked back to the car and opened the driver’s side door and instructed Donald to get out of the car. He did not and Boyle grabbed his wrist and demanded he get out of the car. A struggle ensued between Donald, Boyle and Troupe. At this point, the third and final deputy, Greg Agar arrived on scene.
Boyle was interviewed five days after the incident while he was on leave. He said he warned that a K9 would be released and Donald would be bitten if he did not get out of the car. The struggle continued and Boyle punched Donald in the face. According to Boyle, Donald kicked him twice and grabbed his outer ballistic vest.
At some point during the confrontation, Donald’s vehicle was turned on. Authorities assert that Donald turned his vehicle on, while legal representation for Donald’s family asserts that Donald bumped the gear shift. The vehicle lurched forward, according to Agar’s interview. However, Boyle said the engine was revving and that he warned Donald multiple times if he did not stop, he would be shot.
The interview with Boyle asserts that he was still in the grip of Donald when he fired two shots, the first of which missed Donald, the second hit Donald in the head. Legal representation for the Donald family said in a press release that Boyle had moved back and had both feet “planted on the ground” when he fired twice.
“This is a bigger issue than one or two officers,” said attorney for the Donald family Mark Lindquist.
During a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 17, just a year and a few days after the incident, Donald's mother Susan Zawacky spoke to the public.
"Something's got to change. You can train, but you have to get that mindset, you have to get some better vetting, period. That's what I hope would come out of all of this for everybody."
The lawsuit asserts that deputies assaulted and battered Donald while depriving him of his civil rights. It says, “Clark County has a policy, custom, and established practice of failing to train its officers to use deadly force only as a last resort,” and cites the shooting of Kevin Peterson, another Black man who was allegedly fleeing from Clark County deputies when he was shot, and the recent accidental killing of a Vancouver police officer by a Clark County deputy who mistook him for a suspect as two examples of this behavior in recent memory.
It also says that Clark County failed “to supervise and adequately train officers in de-escalation techniques, non-lethal tactics, the decision-making process preceding use of deadly force, and how to interact with citizens suffering from behavioral health issues such as autism.”
The lawsuit also says that Donald was pulled over for suspicion of drug use under the guise of a simple traffic stop. It cites that “pretextual stops” are prohibited under Washington State Law.
Donald was said to be on the autism spectrum and it was not uncommon for him to withdraw during stressful situations. It asserts that he resisted passively during the encounter.
While the lawsuit does cite the screwdriver as the weapon that Troupe had seen, which began the series of events leading up to the shooting, the independent investigation that took place said ultimately the moving vehicle was seen as a weapon that would have put Boyle in danger. He was found justified in his use of force for that reason.
"My son is not coming back," said Zawacky during the Thursday press conference. "He was shot in the head by a Clark County sheriff."