VANCOUVER, Wash. — Two civil rights organizations are leading an effort to get the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate law enforcement agencies in Clark County.
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, leaders of the NAACP of Vancouver and the ACLU of Washington said the use of force by Vancouver police and the sheriff's office is excessive and discriminatory.
In the past two and a half years, Vancouver Police officers and Clark County deputies have shot and killed eight people. Five of those people were armed.
And five of the eight were people of color: three Black men and two Pacific Islanders, despite those groups representing about 3% of the population.
“When you just look at the raw numbers, more people were killed in King County but when you adjust for the population there's actually a greater risk of being killed by law enforcement in Clark County, and that risk goes up for people of color and is over 10 times higher for Black people in Clark County,” said Enoka Herat, police practices and immigration counsel for the ACLU of Washington.
Prosecutors investigating the cases found officers justified in their deadly use of force, in all eight cases.
Kevin Peterson, Sr. would dispute that. In October of 2020, his 21-year-old son Kevin Peterson, Jr. was shot by Clark County Deputies during a drug sting.
“We come together as a family and just try to encourage one another to stay positive Kevin’s loss was, it was a huge blow,” said Peterson.
Investigators found Peterson was armed and deputies felt their lives were threatened.
Peterson, Sr, who spoke at the news conference, thinks his son's case is another example of racism in policing, and he applauds the effort to bring in the DOJ.
So does Nickeia Hunter, the sister of Carlos Hunter, who was shot and killed by Vancouver Police detectives during a drug investigation traffic stop, in 2019. Hunter was also armed, and detectives said he reached for the weapon.
“The experience since my brother was murdered has been waves of ups and downs. I'm very appreciative of the people that came together in the vision of justice and truth for all,” said Hunter at the news conference.
The letter calling for the department of justice to investigate is signed by the ACLU, NAACP and 19 other advocacy organizations.
It concludes by saying, "We request that the civil rights division of the department of justice promptly investigate whether the VPD, CCSO, and the (joint drug) Task Force have engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of civil rights by using unnecessary and excessive force..."
The leader of the Vancouver NAACP said time has run out trying to work locally to solve a systemic problem.
“At the end of the day all residents of Clark County, regardless of race, housing status or mental health status, deserve fair professional treatment by police. And no one should have to live in fear, which is happening right now," said NAACP Branch 1139 President Jasmine Tolbert.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins released a written statement in response to the NAACP/ACLU request for a DOJ investigation:
“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. The Clark County Sheriff’s office is dedicated to the citizens of Clark County and transparency of the organization.”
The Vancouver Police Department also released a statement. In it, Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain stated,
“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."