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News / Clark County News

Medical Examiner IDs suspect shot, killed by police as Vancouver man

Founder of advocacy organization says there's hurt, anger in homeless community over shooting

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: April 30, 2020, 12:09pm

The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office has identified the man who was shot and killed by police Tuesday as a 50-year-old Vancouver resident.

William E. Abbe’s death was caused by multiple gunshot wounds, according to a news release from the medical examiner. His manner of death was listed as homicide, meaning it resulted from another person’s deliberate action. The ruling does not make any judgments about criminal culpability.

The Columbian’s efforts to reach Abbe’s family have been unsuccessful. Court records show he had likely been homeless for several years.

Three Vancouver police officers shot Abbe while responding to an assault between him and another man at Fourth Plain Boulevard and Stapleton Road. The officers have not yet been identified.

The physical disturbance was reported about 11:10 a.m. Arriving officers found one man lying unconscious on the ground. The other man refused police commands to drop sharpened objects he was holding, according to the Vancouver Police Department.

According to witnesses and emergency radio traffic monitored at The Columbian, Abbe was throwing pieces of sharpened pipe or construction rebar at officers just before he was shot.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday that the victim of Abbe’s assault has been released from the hospital. Investigators do not plan to provide the man’s name at this time.

Abbe had a handful of run-ins with Clark County law enforcement, dating back to 1988, court records show.

He was arrested in late May 2018 on suspicion of three counts of second-degree assault, resisting arrest and malicious mischief. His last known address was left blank in the booking documents.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Abbe was banging on the front of the Vancouver Police Department’s West Precinct with a tire iron.

When three officers went outside and tried to get him to stop, Abbe approached them with the tire iron in one hand and a knife in the other, according to the affidavit. Abbe was told he would be shot if he did not stop, and he responded, “Just shoot me, go ahead,” the affidavit says.

An officer used a Taser on Abbe; he was restrained and arrested, court records say.

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About a month later, Abbe pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and resisting arrest. He was sentenced to 135 days in jail.

In January 2001, Abbe’s home was searched for explosives after he threatened to blow up a local Work Source office. He became frustrated with employees when he was told he couldn’t withdraw cash from his unemployment account at that location, police said at the time.

A search of his home turned up no evidence of explosives or materials to make explosives, police said.

He was later convicted of the threat and sentenced to three months in jail, court records say.

Community reaction

Adam Kravitz, founder of Vancouver-based homeless advocacy organization Outsiders Inn, said he had a brief interaction with Abbe several months ago. He stopped to speak with Abbe because Abbe’s panhandling signs caught his eye.

Kravitz wanted to tell his story — the signs he was displaying for traffic were thought-provoking, and he seemed like an interesting person. Abbe declined, however. Court records say Abbe lived in Clark County for more than 40 years.

Kravitz said there is a lot of anger and hurt in the homeless community over Abbe’s death.

“The divide between the community and law enforcement is greater than it was, and it was already strained,” he said.

Homeless services advocates are expressing frustration, Kravitz said, about the lack of resources and interventions for people like Abbe. If he was helped, maybe there wouldn’t have been a shooting, he said.

There has also been a lot of discussion about a video of the shooting widely shared online. Kravitz said it seems to his colleagues and the people he helps that the situation could have been handled differently.

“They’re terrified. They’re wondering why more less-than-lethal methods weren’t used, why a (police canine) wasn’t brought in,” Kravitz said.

Lynnette Buffington, executive director of the Washington Fraternal Order of Police, said in an email that the conclusion of the investigation by the Regional Independent Investigative Team will give a complete picture of the incident, and whether or not the use of force was justified.

The organization “asks the community to allow that investigation and the process to conclude to ensure that the entire incident can be assessed and evaluated.”

“Like any active investigation it would be premature and prejudicial to assume any criminal charge of any party until the totality of the evidence can be reviewed. Anything short of that or public assumption of something to the contrary would be unjust for all parties involved,” Buffington said.

The association’s Lodge No. 12 Vancouver President Jeff Anaya said law enforcement care deeply about the people they serve and don’t look forward to days that involve incidents like shootings.

“We strive to protect and serve you every day with the utmost professionalism. Like you, we are asked to trust the process and are similarly awaiting the findings to wholly understand the incident,” Anaya said.

Columbian Breaking News Reporter