A group of county prosecutors from across Washington have determined a Clark County sheriff’s deputy acted in “good faith” when he shot and killed a Black man from Vancouver during a February traffic stop in Hazel Dell.
On July 12, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys released its report on the shooting of Jenoah Donald by Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Sean Boyle. The report concluded Boyle had acted according to state law on law enforcement’s use of deadly force during the Feb. 4 shooting.
The five-member panel of county prosecutors from Lewis, Pend Oreille, Yakima, Pierce and Snohomish counties examined more than 2,500 pages of material in its independent review of the case, which was the first of its kind, according to the report.
The prosecutors were tasked with determining whether Boyle’s actions met the state’s good faith standard. The standard is based on what a “similarly situated reasonable officer” would believe merited the use of deadly force to prevent death or serious physical harm to the officer or another person, given “all the facts, circumstances and information known to the officer at the time,” the report explained.
Donald was pulled over by Boyle for a broken taillight on Feb. 4. After Donald refused commands from fellow responding deputy Holly Troupe to show his hands and exit the vehicle, a struggle ensued, according to the report. Boyle threatened to release his K9 on Donald and punched Donald in the face, after which Donald grabbed Boyle’s vest.
Donald reportedly turned Boyle so he could not reach his Taser and then Donald started the car, the report stated. Boyle said he warned Donald multiple times that he would be shot if he did not stop. Boyle then reportedly felt the car move and fired two shots at Donald.
The prosecutors determined that although Troupe noticed several items in the vehicle like a screwdriver and pliers, which could be seen as potential weapons, “there is no evidence that the presence of these items were communicated to Deputy Boyle by Deputy Troupe,” the report read.
The prosecutors did conclude that starting the car and driving while holding onto Boyle, “could constitute a ‘weapon’” under state law.
Prosecutors determined Boyle’s “command” for Donald to exit the vehicle was lawful based on officer safety, but noted Donald was never “asked” to step out of the vehicle, nor did he receive an explanation why the command was issued.
“What started as a ‘simple’ traffic stop for a defective taillight, quickly escalated,” the report read.
A day after the report was released, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins issued a statement on the findings, noting the prosecutors’ investigation was independent from his office.
“I fully support ongoing efforts to improve transparency and accountability with law enforcement,” the statement read.
The statement noted the creation of a panel of attorneys from around the state — which did not include Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik — “furthers the goals of improved transparency and increased accountability.”
“We will strive to learn all that we can from this incident and work at constant improvement,” Atkins wrote.
Following the release of the report, Donald’s mother, Sue Zawacky, issued a statement saying Donald’s family felt “let down and disappointed” by the conclusion.
“We hope the officers will resign for the good of the community because they don’t have the patience or skills for the job,” Zawacky stated. “I don’t want any other families to lose their sons.”
Zawacky suggested the matter be looked into by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office.
Although no criminal charges were recommended by the investigation for either Boyle, Troupe, or sheriff’s deputy Greg Agar, who also responded to the scene, the family of Donald is seeking $17 million in a wrongful death lawsuit against the county.
Announced last month, the suit alleges Donald was pulled over because Boyle suspected Donald was leaving a “drug house.” The lawsuit claims law enforcement used the defective taillight as an excuse to pull Donald over.
“What’s clear is the officers unnecessarily escalated a petty traffic stop into a fatal shooting,” said Mark Lindquist, an attorney representing Donald’s family in the wrongful death lawsuit.
In his statement, Lindquist noted the wrongful death lawsuit had “entirely different standards” legally than any potential criminal charges against Boyle would have.
“Accountability and justice will come from the family’s lawsuit,” Lindquist stated.