Clark County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Scott Jackson has determined that two Vancouver police detectives acted lawfully when they fatally shot 43-year-old Carlos M. Hunter on March 7.
A group of officers was in the process of serving a search warrant on Hunter during a traffic stop in Hazel Dell, when Hunter reached for a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun in his right front pants pocket, according to investigators.
Detectives Dennis Devlin, 45, and Colton Price, 30, shot Hunter in response.
“The actions of Officers Devlin and Price were in response to fear of a deadly assault,” Jackson wrote in his review, submitted to Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain on Sept. 12. “The conduct of (the officers), under the circumstances with which they were presented, was justifiable and lawful.”
The use-of-force review was provided to The Columbian last week.
On March 7, members of the Safe Streets Task Force prepared to serve a warrant on Hunter for suspicion of selling Ecstasy. The task force was “aware that Hunter had a violent criminal history, was a known gang member and that he was known to carry a .40-caliber handgun,” the review says.
Police have repeated in their reports that Hunter had gang affiliations. The man’s family has disputed that claim, stating he had ties when he was younger but severed them to focus on his five children.
When pressed for information about Hunter’s alleged gang affiliations, the Camas Police Department — which led the investigation into the shooting as part of the Regional Major Crimes Team — previously said the assertion came from “personal knowledge of some officers on scene, as well as information communicated to the officers in the operational plan.”
A review of the investigative documents on the shooting, obtained from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office through a public records request, say little of Hunter’s alleged gang connections beyond noting he had tattoos generally associated with gangs, including one that said “WSP 142,” a reference to the West Side Piru street gangs in Compton, Calif.
Jackson said Friday, “That’s what (the police) are declaring was the information they had and what was going through their minds at the time of the incident.
“They certainly are saying he is (gang affiliated). Why? You’d have to ask them,” he said.
Vancouver Assistant Police Chief Troy Price said in an email that he did not have enough personal knowledge about the shooting to answer the question of why officers thought Hunter was a gang member. He added that the investigators who would have that information were not working Monday.
According to Jackson’s review, the warrant for Hunter covered searches of his home, vehicle and body. But the task force decided to wait to perform a traffic stop on Hunter because young children were inside his home.
The traffic stop happened in the 2400 block of Northeast 78th Street. Hunter did not initially turn off his engine. Devlin and Price approached Hunter from each side of his Kia Optima, informed him of the warrant and told him to get out of the car, the review says.
Hunter reportedly refused, and more law enforcement responded to the scene. Devlin opened the driver’s side door of the Kia, but Hunter stayed buckled up and “kept reaching toward his right front pocket,” the review says. Price used a flashlight to break the passenger-side window as two additional officers, not including Devlin, tried to pry Hunter from the car. The investigative documents say Hunter stated, “I give up,” but he continued to flail and remained in the car.
Hunter continued to reach for his right front pocket, according to the report, and officers shocked him three times with a stun gun, to no effect.
“Following the third Taser attempt, Officer Devlin spotted the handle of the handgun in Hunter’s right front pocket. He could see that Hunter was attempting to draw the handgun from his pocket. In fear for his safety, and that of others, Officer Devlin cried out ‘gun,’ ” Jackson wrote.
Devlin and Price fired their weapons.
“Both shot rounds until it felt like the danger from Hunter had been subdued,” Jackson wrote. The review does not include how many rounds the officers fired. The investigative documents indicate Price likely fired his gun seven times (the exact number was unclear due to a magazine extension), and Devlin fired his weapon nine times.
Hunter died of multiple gunshot wounds. According to the Clark County Medical Examiner’s autopsy, included among the investigative materials, Hunter had 18 to 20 bullet wounds to his chest. A dozen bullets were removed from his body, according to the report.
The Vancouver Police Department does not use vehicle dash cameras, and officers do not wear body cameras.
Vancouver police were involved in three fatal shootings that occurred between Feb. 5 and March 7. Two of the fatalities involved people of color and another involved a homeless man previously diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Calls among the community for answers and potential changes have resulted in the police department participating in a city-ordered independent assessment of its use-of-force protocols and training. With this most recent use-of-force review, all three fatal shootings have been ruled lawful.
Attempts to reach Hunter’s family for comment were unsuccessful.