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News >  Crime/Public Safety

NAACP, ACLU call for DOJ investigation of Vancouver police, Clark County Sheriff’s Office

By Becca Robbins (Vancouver, Wash.) Columbian

Advocacy groups, including NAACP Vancouver and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Vancouver Police Department, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the agencies’ joint drug task force for what the groups described as discriminatory policing.

During a joint press conference Wednesday, NAACP Vancouver President Jasmine Tolbert said the letter comes “after years of racial profiling, discriminatory policing, excessive force and a disturbing favoritism to known white supremacist extremist groups.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Vancouver Police Department said it will cooperate with any inquiry or investigation that may come from this request.

“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,” Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain said in the statement.

Sheriff Chuck Atkins said in a Wednesday statement, “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.”

He noted that the agency is accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which he said has standards regarding bias in policing.

Enoka Herat from the ACLU of Washington read off the names of eight people fatally shot by law enforcement officers in Clark County in the last 2½ years, including Kfin Karuo, who was shot by sheriff’s deputies last month.

“Sixty-three percent of the people killed were people of color, including three Black men and two Pacific Islanders, despite the fact that Black people and Pacific Islanders together account for about 3 percent of the Clark County population,” Herat said.

Nickeia Hunter spoke Wednesday about her brother Carlos Hunter, who was fatally shot by Vancouver police in March 2019.

“My family has been affected by Clark County’s unjust bias, racial-based policing,” she said. “This county has always prided itself for being a progressive place where everyone could thrive. At least that was true for white people. Black, brown and BIPOC residents all too often face persistent racism in the way police treat us and ultimately justify our killing.”

Kevin Peterson Sr. condemned the law enforcement response toward those who protested the police shooting of his son in October 2020 and those who gathered to memorialize the 21-year-old.

“In Clark County, white supremacist extremists are protected and supported by law enforcement in exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech, whereas Black demonstrators are viewed as threats and met with violence by police,” he said.

Hundreds marched through the city from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, 2020, to protest Kevin Peterson Jr.’s death. Two Clark County sheriff’s detectives and a deputy shot and killed Peterson during an attempted drug sting in Hazel Dell.

In August, an outside prosecutor’s office tasked with reviewing the shooting found the officers’ use of deadly force was justified and lawful.

The unrest included clashes around Vancouver between racial justice protesters and right-wing groups. Attendees to a vigil for Peterson reported being pepper-sprayed by counter-protesters, and at least one counter-protester was filmed firing a gun into the air.

Eight people arrested faced charges of failure to disperse when Vancouver police tried to break up the crowds.

‘People are living in fear’

In McElvain’s statement, he highlighted Vancouver’s Community Task Force on Policing and its work addressing 84 recommendations in the Police Executive Research Forum’s use-of-force report for the Vancouver Police Department.

Tolbert said 21 community groups signed onto the ACLU and NAACP’s letter requesting the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division conduct a “pattern or practice” investigation into the agencies.

Both Kevin Peterson Sr. and Nickeia Hunter thanked those who continue to honor their loved ones.

“I’m very appreciative of the people that came together in the vision of justice and truth for all,” Hunter said. “And so, it is my honor to see this through.”

The request to the federal agency came after Tolbert said advocates have exhausted other avenues of pushing for change.

“At the end of the day, all residents of Vancouver and Clark County – regardless of race, housing status or mental health status – deserve fair, equal and professional treatment by police, and no one should have to live in fear, which is happening right now,” she said. “People are living in fear that their life could be unjustly taken in a police encounter.”

Herat said Clark County has a higher rate of fatal police shootings per capita than King County.

“Over the years, as we’ve been hearing about these incidents – this hasn’t been the first time we’re hearing about it, and the incidents haven’t stopped,” Herat said. “And, again, it’s after new laws have been passed; it’s after all these measures have tried to reduce police violence. And Clark County stands out.”

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