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News / Clark County News

Review: Police shot bystander ‘without malice’

Prosecutor says officers believed they were firing at wanted gunman

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: February 5, 2015, 4:00pm

The three officers who shot at a bystander they mistook for a wanted gunman acted reasonably and lawfully, according to a review of the case filed Thursday by Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik.

Vancouver police Officer Jay Frances, Cpl. Chris Le Blanc and Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Spainhower all believed they were shooting at John Kendall, a man who had prompted a countywide manhunt when he shot his neighbor at a Walnut Grove intersection earlier in the day on Oct. 31, according to the case review.

However, instead of Kendall, one of the officers’ bullets struck the leg of Brent Graham, a 55-year-old Vancouver man who had called 911 on his way to work to report an abandoned vehicle on the side of the road. Graham’s attorney, Steven Thayer, said that Graham was unaware of the potential danger and stayed near the scene.

Despite the misidentification, Golik wrote, the officers “acted on a good faith belief, on reasonable grounds and their actions were without malice.”

Golik continued: “I find the involved officers reasonably believed they were shooting at John Kendall when they fired their weapons in this incident.”

The officers, who fired eight shots total, “believed that if they did not fire, the suspect would be an imminent danger to others,” according to the case review.

The confusing series of events first began at about 8:30 a.m., when 58-year-old Kendall, behind the wheel of a silver Buick, pulled his car up to the intersection of Northeast 63rd Street and Andresen Road in Vancouver alongside his neighbors, Erich and Abigail Mounce. Kendall and the Mounces were due in court at 9 a.m. in an ongoing dispute. From his car, Kendall pulled out a high-powered rifle, fired it at the couple’s vehicle and fled the scene.

Abigail Mounce was shot in the face, and her husband, who was driving, sped away to the hospital. Abigail Mounce survived the shooting.

What followed was an hourlong countywide manhunt.

Police quickly identified the suspect as Kendall and blasted media with his photo and a description of his vehicle, warning that he was armed and dangerous.

Kendall had reportedly previously made threats about harming the Mounces’ attorney and had threatened to commit suicide by cop. Police sent officers to the attorney’s offices, and the courthouse was placed on lockdown along with numerous schools.

Graham, on his way to work at about 9:30 a.m. that day, spotted an unoccupied silver sedan parked in a turnout along Blandford Drive. He called 911 to report it, passing along the license plate that was registered to Kendall, unknowingly sending multiple police to where he was.

Graham, who was never told to leave the area, stayed at the turnout, and officers were never advised that he remained at the scene.

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Spainhower, Le Blanc and Frances, all part of the regional SWAT team, were sent to Blandford Drive and positioned themselves on the Evergreen Boulevard overpass, about 334 feet from the turnout.

Shortly after arriving, the three officers saw a man exit the only vehicle they could see from their vantage point with what was likely a pistol in his hand, according to the prosecuting attorney’s case review.

Each officer said they felt exposed on the bridge and were fearful that if the subject made it to the woods, he would hurt or kill them or fellow officers, according to the document.

Officers were not advised of any other people in the area and did not give notice before firing.

“The involved officers in this case were required to make split second decisions based on the information they had and their perceptions of evidence they observed when they fired,” Golik wrote.

Detectives reported that Graham believed he was being shot at by a man in the silver Buick. Armed with a .40-caliber Glock handgun, Graham shot a round “down range” (east into the woods), according to investigative documents. Officers had fired their weapons from the north.

“He thought this would let whoever was shooting at him know he ‘was armed as well,'” detectives wrote in their report.

A minute later, Graham dropped his gun and called 911, telling dispatchers he’d been shot in the thigh. Graham was taken to an area hospital, where it was determined that he had a blood alcohol content of .079, according to investigative documents.

Kendall was later found dead nearby in the woods of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Thayer said he plans to file a civil lawsuit on behalf of Graham, though he hasn’t done so yet. He wasn’t prepared to comment Thursday because he hadn’t read Golik’s report.

Columbian staff writer Paris Achen contributed to this story.

Columbian Breaking News Reporter