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Documents detail slaying of Karuo by Clark County sheriff’s deputies

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
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A Clark County sheriff’s sergeant who authorized the Oct. 17 pursuit of Kfin Karuo, despite a Vancouver police bulletin warning officers not to contact him, told investigators he was concerned Karuo would commit a violent crime.

Two sheriff’s deputies fatally shot Karuo, 28, after he allegedly refused to stop and later pointed a gun at them in east Vancouver, according to investigators.

Karuo was wanted for allegedly pointing a handgun at a man in a Sept. 29 incident caught on a dashboard camera. The Vancouver Police Department’s Safe Streets Task Force had been investigating the incident, and the department issued a Wanted Person/Officer Safety bulletin, dated Oct. 6. The bulletin said there was probable cause to arrest Karuo for first-degree assault.

“Karuo is believed to be armed with a handgun. Officers should use extreme caution if contact is made with the subject based on recent events. Do not attempt contact with Kfin Karuo. SSTF is actively working the case. Info only,” the bulletin reads in part.

The information was contained in nearly 475 pages of investigative reports released Friday by the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in response to media requests.

Prosecutor Tony Golik previously told The Columbian the investigation will be reviewed by a statewide panel of prosecutors assembled by the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. The panel will help assess whether the deputies’ actions were legally justified.

Vancouver police were dispatched at 11:30 p.m. Sept. 29 for a reported assault at the parking lot of Beverage Tobacco Zone, 11320 N.E. 49th St., about a half-mile from where Karuo was later fatally shot.

In video released in late October, a man, identified by police as Karuo, is seen driving in a white Ford Expedition. He approaches a man parked there. Investigators and court records say Karuo asked the man if he was a cop. When the man told him it was none of his business, Karuo pointed a gun at him and told him to leave. The victim told police he is homeless and lives in his car, often parking in that lot, according to court records.

In his Oct. 17 interview with investigators, sheriff’s Sgt. Erik Zimmerman said he spotted what he believed was Karuo’s white Ford Expedition, parked at an industrial area, as he was responding to an unrelated call in the 6800 block of Northeast 121st Avenue early that morning.

He radioed to sheriff’s Deputy Michael Gonzalez that he thought it was Karuo’s SUV. Zimmerman said they had talked about the Vancouver police bulletin in a prior briefing, and he sent Michael Gonzalez the flyer again that shift, according to the investigative documents.

Michael Gonzalez later located the SUV parked at the Beverage Tobacco Zone and confirmed it was Karuo’s. He then followed the SUV to a nearby apartment complex and asked for additional units to respond, the documents state.

“What’s concerning to me, too, as well is when you see the randomness of that crime, where it was a complete stranger is my understanding when you read that BOLO that he pointed a firearm at,” Zimmerman told investigators, referring to the Sept. 29 incident. “And I know that was sent out in early October. And as time goes on, you have to have some genuine concern that he’s going to re-offend, commit more crimes — crimes of violence with a firearm. So to me, it felt very necessary and reasonable that to make some attempts to apprehend him.”

Multiple officers started to respond to the area as Michael Gonzalez announced that Karuo was fleeing, and Zimmerman authorized the pursuit.

Michael Gonzalez told investigators in a Oct. 17 interview that he had discussed with Zimmerman whether they were going to contact Karuo.

“Because in the flyer it says, you know, don’t actively look for him … do not attempt to contact. In my opinion, what that means is don’t go knocking on his addresses looking for him, and I would 100 percent not do that. I’m not going to roll through his parking lot and look for him,” he told investigators. “However, if he’s out, and he’s parking in backed up spaces, just given his history, I’m going to make it a point to find him if he’s out rolling around. And where do I find him? I find him in the exact same parking lot where he had committed the original offense so.”

The pursuit started near Northeast 49th Street and 112th Avenue. Michael Gonzalez performed a pursuit intervention technique, or PIT, maneuver, and Karuo’s SUV skidded to a halt on a berm along Northeast 49th Street near 122nd, according to the investigative records.

Sheriff’s Deputy Forrest Gonzalez, who was also in pursuit, told investigators he pinned Karuo’s vehicle after the PIT maneuver. In his Oct. 21 interview with investigators, he said he saw Karuo in the driver’s seat and that Karuo was trying to crawl out the open driver’s side window.

As Forrest Gonzalez exited his vehicle, he said he saw a firearm in Karuo’s hand. He said he drew his gun and yelled to Karuo to drop his gun, but he didn’t. He then saw Karuo turn and look at him; they made eye contact, he said, and Karuo pointed his gun at him. Forrest Gonzalez said he fired multiple times before moving for cover. Meanwhile, Karuo climbed out the window and dropped to the ground, according to his interview with investigators.

“So he’s willing to use force against us and potentially harm us and kill us. It was just an imminent and immediate threat to myself, and I had no other option at that point,” Forrest Gonzalez told investigators.

He said he yelled that Karuo had pointed the gun at him. He then heard a series of gunshots and said he was unsure who fired. He saw Karuo running away with his arm raised and the gun in hand, he said. The deputy fired one more round, but he believed he missed and realized there was a backdrop of houses, so he stopped shooting, according to the investigative documents.

Forrest Gonzalez also advised over the radio that shots had been fired by police, the documents say.

Sheriff’s Deputy David Delin, who was also on scene, said he arrived after the high-risk traffic stop. He told investigators on Oct. 21 that he didn’t initially see anyone in the SUV, but he drew his gun as he got out of his vehicle. He then heard Forrest Gonzalez say, “He’s got a gun, drop the gun,” and then three to four gunshots. He said he also heard, “He pointed it at me.”

Delin said Karuo then popped out and squared up to him. He did not know if Forrest Gonzalez had been wounded, he said, so he fired six to eight shots, according to his interview with investigators.

“And the shots don’t appear to be working. He’s not grunting. He’s not screaming. He’s not grabbing. He’s not flinching, nothing. And I continue the shots until basically he kinda gets up over the berm, and I don’t have a safe shot anymore,” Delin told investigators.

Delin said he wasn’t expecting Karuo to pop out like that, and Karuo wasn’t expecting Delin to be right there.

“I felt he was gonna kill me. I didn’t know if Forrest was dead, and I thought I was next. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m the next cop. He’s got the jump on me like we discussed earlier,” he told investigators.

Two other law enforcement officers on scene during the shooting told investigators they did not see whether Karuo was armed as he exited the crashed SUV, but they heard gunshots.

Evidence logs show investigators collected 17 9 mm shell casings from the scene, between the two deputies.