Officers cleared in Jan. 18 shooting of fugitive

Prosecutor's office determines they were in fear for their lives

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Updated: March 25, 2013, 7:13 PM

 
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Prosecutor's report on shooting of Jesse France

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photoJesse John France Jr. was fatally shot by officers Friday.

Three law enforcement officers were justified in shooting and killing fugitive Jesse France Jr. on Jan. 18 as he tried to escape capture at an apartment complex in Vancouver’s Ogden neighborhood, according to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Vancouver police Detective Spencer Harris, Department of Corrections Officer Brian Ford and Deputy U.S. Marshal Vincent Byford were in fear for their lives when collectively they fired 14 shots at the 29-year-old convict, killing him instantly.

“Their actions were clearly reasonable, justifiable and lawful,” Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik wrote Monday in a letter to the officers’ respective agencies.

Multiple witnesses said that France was armed and had reached for his weapon just before the officers fired at him, according to Golik’s report.

France had an extensive felony record and was wanted on a warrant charging him with a Dec. 17 felony hit-and-run in which he pointed a handgun at a witness who tried to prevent him from leaving the scene of a crash. Law enforcement officers, who were assigned to apprehend him, were informed that France was armed and dangerous.

France’s friends said “he couldn’t take the thought of going back to prison” for decades. He had just completed a three-year prison sentence in 2011 for possession of a controlled substance. He had confided to one friend that if police stopped him, he would pull out his weapon to force officers to shoot him.

After the shooting, a pistol was found in the waistband of France’s pants, according to Golik’s report.

The shooting happened just before 11 a.m. on a Friday after the officers went to the Addison Apartments, 7531 N.E. 18th St., to apprehend France. Byford was undercover, dressed in street clothes and driving a pickup truck. He arrived first. He parked his pickup next to France’s silver Honda while France was standing nearby. As he was pulling in, he saw France lift his shirt to reveal a pistol in his waistband. However, France appeared to be unaware that Byford was a law enforcement officer.

When France climbed into the Honda, Byford radioed other officers that France’s car was blocked and they could come in to arrest him. Harris, dressed in uniform and driving a police vehicle, then pulled up with his emergency lights flashing and yelled, “Police! Don’t move. Put your hands up. I know you have a gun.” Ford then arrived on scene.

France reacted by putting his car in reverse and ramming the bumper of Byford’s truck twice. He then rammed the apartment building with the car. Then, he appeared to be stuck. The tires on his car were spinning, and he was revving the engine. All three officers said they saw him reach toward his waistband, and they fired at him.

The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that France died of multiple gunshot wounds. His body tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine.

The officers were placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation. Harris is now back on duty, according to a Vancouver news release. It was unclear late Monday when Byford and Ford will return to duty.