Two Vancouver police officers who shot and killed a 29-year-old mentally ill homeless man brandishing realistic replica handguns Feb. 28 were legally justified in using deadly force, according to a review by the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Officers Christopher Douville and Andrew Dunbar fatally shot Michael Eugene Pierce west of downtown Vancouver. Pierce, whose family said he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a teenager, was reportedly pointing two replica firearms at himself, passersby and police.
Pierce’s actions would lead any reasonable police officer to believe he posed an imminent danger to himself and others, Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Smith wrote in his use-of-force report.
“In particular, Pierce had pointed his replica pistols at multiple people and vehicles and refused to drop them when ordered to do so. Though Pierce was not armed with an actual firearm, the officers had no possible way to know this,” Smith wrote.
Officers responded about 4:45 p.m. to West 12th and Jefferson streets for a report of an armed person. Shortly after, officers yelled shots had been fired and a man was down, with a firearm by his feet, according to emergency radio traffic monitored at The Columbian.
According to the report, multiple people called 911 with information about a man screaming and brandishing two handguns.
Dispatchers sent out an alert and provided a description of the man over the radio, and Douville and Dunbar, who were two blocks away on another call, responded, the report states.
Having spotted Pierce, the officers armed themselves with police department-issued .223 caliber rifles before exiting their vehicles. Douville told detectives he was concerned while en route because he was familiar with the area and knew there would be “a large number of motorist(s) and people present,” the report states.
Dunbar was the first to arrive and spotted Pierce charging at another man in a threatening manner while screaming. He also saw that Pierce had what appeared to be two black handguns, according to the report. Douville came upon the unfolding scene and saw a man facing Dunbar, yelling unintelligibly and holding a gun.
The officers ordered Pierce to drop the weapons. Instead, he turned toward them and pointed a gun at his own head. Then, Pierce pointed a gun at the officers, according to the report.
“Officer Dunbar believed he was about to be shot and fired several rounds at the man,” Smith wrote.
Dunbar and Douville took cover after they fired shots at Pierce, whose condition was unclear — an immediate approach was deemed unsafe due to Pierce’s actions. The report states that officers reached Pierce about 4 ½ minutes later using a ballistic shield; he had no pulse.
An autopsy found Pierce had been shot twice — in the chest and the lower left leg. The shot to the chest was fatal. Dunbar fired his rifle four times, and Douville fired once, according to the report. Detectives found five .223 cartridge cases at the scene.
The Vancouver police officers were 100 feet away when they fired their weapons. Smith noted the effective range of a Taser is 25 feet.
More than two dozen people who had been in the area at the time of the shooting were interviewed by police. They gave similar accounts to those provided by the involved officers. Several witnesses “opined that (Pierce) was under the influence of methamphetamine or experiencing a mental crisis,” the report says. One witness said Pierce made comments about wanting to die by suicide earlier that day.
Pierce’s blood tested positive for methamphetamine and THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, the autopsy showed.
His family previously told The Columbian that Pierce had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had stopped taking his medication. The family said they were suspicious about Pierce using drugs but never confirmed it.
Four videos of the shooting were also retrieved and reviewed by detectives and the prosecutor’s office. The videos are consistent with the officers’ account of what happened.
Pierce’s guns turned out to be replicas of a Colt 1911 and Walther P-99; they were both BB guns, but neither had external markings to suggest it, according to the report. Detectives spoke with someone who saw Pierce with the fake guns and had helped him buy a holster. A shoulder holster and CO2 cartridges were found on Pierce at the scene of the shooting.
“Pierce’s intent during this incident is unclear … it is possible Pierce was seeking to cause the police to shoot him. However, Pierce’s motives during this incident cannot be known with any certainty,” Smith concluded.