A Vancouver police officer shot and killed a 16-year-old boy while investigating a disturbance Tuesday night at a Southeast Ellsworth Road apartment complex, according to the Vancouver Police Department.
The boy was identified by a family friend as Clayton Joseph. He was a student at Evergreen High School, according to district spokeswoman Gail Spolar. Joseph began attending the high school in December, she said.
A police statement said the incident began about 11:05 p.m. Tuesday when police were dispatched to a report of a disturbance between a male and female at an apartment complex in the 1200 block of Southeast Ellsworth Road. Witnesses reported that two males, both possibly armed, had then become involved in an altercation in the parking lot.
Officers arriving at the scene encountered Joseph. Police said the boy had brandished a knife and refused commands to drop the weapon before he was shot.
The boy was taken to a hospital for medical treatment but later died.
The officer who shot the boy was uninjured and has been placed on critical incident leave, standard department protocol in an officer-involved shooting. The officer has not yet been identified, which is not unusual in police shootings.
Conner Bloxham, the friend who spoke on behalf of Joseph’s family, said they told him that Joseph was trying to defuse a situation when he was shot. Specifically, he was trying to stop someone from attacking their girlfriend.
“They don’t want people to get the impression he was a troublemaker. He was trying to prevent a situation from happening,” Bloxham said.
The Regional Major Crimes Team is investigating the shooting.
Police department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said in an email that investigators do not know what started the fight between the males. She said one of them was armed with a knife, but it was “unknown what the other alleged weapon was.”
Kapp declined to answer additional questions, including details about exactly how the teen was brandishing the knife or how far apart he and the officer were from each other, citing the ongoing investigation.
Southeast 10th Street was closed to traffic from Southeast Ellsworth Road to Nancy Road for the investigation. The actual scene of the shooting was on 10th Street at the northeast end of a gated apartment complex. Two Vancouver Police Department SUVs sat parked Wednesday morning in the eastbound lanes of the street.
Investigators had chalked the road near the police vehicles’ tires. Nearby on a sidewalk, evidence markers had been placed near wet clothing. A Clark County sheriff’s deputy flew a drone over the area as several other officers paced around and kept people away from the scene.
Corey Colter, who lives across the street from where the shooting took place, was sitting on his couch when he heard a single gun shot. He said he ran outside and about 30 seconds later saw several police officers and two or three people lying down on the sidewalk by a metal gate.
“I just heard a couple of screams, or what sounded like screams, and thought nothing of it,” Colter said. “After the second scream, I heard a gunshot, jumped off the couch and saw cop cars and sirens.”
Other neighbors said emergency vehicles swarmed the area within minutes, but most were in bed and didn’t hear or see the incident.
“I just heard sirens, and when I got up, the place was full of police cars,” said William Lee, who had just fallen asleep around the time of the shooting.
Some neighbors said investigators knocked on doors throughout the night, sometimes multiple times per residence, to ask if they were OK and had information.
Bloxham told The Columbian he met Joseph and his family in the Chuuk state of the Federated States of Micronesia, where Bloxham was doing missionary work with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joseph’s mother has lived in the United States for about three years; Joseph moved to Vancouver last year for a better education.
Joseph first enrolled in the Evergreen school district in September 2018 at Mountain View High School and transferred to Legacy High School in November, Spolar said, before moving to Evergreen High School.
Bloxham said the family wants the community to know Joseph was a good kid who stayed home a lot and was diligent about completing his school work. Joseph was learning English while living in Micronesia, Bloxham said, and could speak the language fairly well.
“He called me just the other day for help with his homework,” Bloxham said.
Reporter Katie Gillespie contributed to this report.