Family, friends left with questions after fugitive shot dead by police

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

While law enforcement have not revealed any new details about the police-involved shooting that resulted in the death of a wanted Vancouver man, the man's family and friends are left wondering if things could have gone differently.

"Just because you have a criminal background doesn't mean you should have to die like that," said Candi Lee Balabon, the aunt of Jesse John France, Jr.

France, 29, was shot by officers of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force on Jan. 18 in the Addison Apartments parking lot, 7531 N.E. 18th St. France rammed an unmarked police vehicle, then "the situation was escalated by Mr. France" before officers shot him, according to Vancouver police. France was pronounced dead at the scene.

Elysia Sellberg, 29, Vancouver, a long-time friend of France's, said she was in the passenger seat next to France when officers shot him.

She said their car had struck another vehicle as they tried to drive away, but she said France didn't have a gun and didn't do anything wrong before he was shot. Police have declined to say if he was armed.

When she heard five loud pops and saw the smoke from the guns, Sellberg said: "I started screaming, Jess! I had barely got a glance at him and saw that he had no soul in his eyes anymore."

"He's my friend. He wasn't perfect, but he always meant well. He would never have wanted to hurt anybody," she said.

Kim Kapp, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, has declined to say how the situation escalated to the point where officers used deadly force.

Officials said that they were searching for France, who was an ex-convict wanted for failing to check in with his community corrections officer and a suspect in several ongoing felony cases.

The Regional Major Crimes Team, a multi-agency team led by the Clark County Sheriff's Office, is investigating the officer-involved shooting.

A veteran detective with the Vancouver Police Department and a community corrections specialist with the Washington Department of Corrections remain on paid administrative leave following the shooting.

Neither officer's name is being released by the agencies, however.

Kapp said that the Vancouver police officer occasionally works in an undercover capacity, and releasing his name presents a possible safety concern.

Chad Lewis, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the agency doesn't want to share the names of officers involved in criminal investigations due to officer safety concerns. The sole responsibility of the Fugitive Task Force is to find high-risk fugitives, many of whom are violent and involved in gangs.

"It's a very difficult job," Lewis said. "You are searching for felons who have strong reasons not to be found."

France was supervised out of the DOC's east Vancouver office and was considered a high-risk offender. The state does not supervise low-risk offenders, Lewis said. When the agency issued a warrant for France's arrest, the warrant would show up as soon as any law enforcement official ran his name or plates.

Based on France's criminal history, he was considered at high risk to commit a violent crime, Lewis said.

France had most recently served a three-year prison sentence for possession of a controlled substance, and he was released in spring 2011, Lewis said. He stopped reporting to his community corrections officer in August.

The Fugitive Task Force arrests hundreds of high-risk offenders each year. Most of the time, offenders are arrested without incident and the arrests go unnoticed, unless something unusual happens, Lewis said.

France's aunt said he was sweet and kind, but he did get involved with methamphetamine in his early 20s.

"He was 29, but he acted like he was 19," she said.

A service for France is scheduled for Feb. 2 at Evergreen Memorial Gardens. His family has set up a donation fund to help fund his funeral expenses at Columbia Credit Union under the name Jesse John France Memorial Fund.

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; emily.gillespie@columbian.com.