A panel of prosecutors tasked with reviewing the June 3 shooting of a Portland man by two state troopers and a tribal police officer after a high-speed chase along southbound Interstate 5 found the officers’ use of deadly force was justified and lawful. The man who was shot, Vencine Hadley, a 48-year-old Black man, survived his injuries.
The 13-page report released Friday from the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys found that Washington State Patrol Troopers Josh Bacheller and Evan Tippets and Cowlitz Tribal Police Officer Austin Moore acted in “good faith,” meaning a similarly situated law enforcement officer would have also used deadly force under the circumstances.
However, the panel questioned the troopers’ decision to pursue Hadley once he got on the freeway.
“While it is a significant factor that, at the time, Mr. Hadley’s identity was unknown, the decision to maintain the pursuit is one that caused pause for the reviewing committee,” the report states.
According to the report, a Kelso police officer pulled over Hadley near Three Rivers Drive in Cowlitz County for missing license plates, not having a valid trip permit and a burned out taillight. However, Hadley drove off before the officer could identify him. Once he got onto I-5, the Kelso officer stopped pursuing him and alerted the Washington State Patrol. Dispatch told troopers the driver was not identified other than as a “Black male.”
Troopers attempted to stop Hadley around 7:15 p.m. and began following him when he refused to stop. A trooper said over the radio he had reached about 100 mph, and traffic was moderate. The report states Hadley continued driving erratically and speeding, and even dodged a spike strip, the report states.
Hadley eventually took Exit 16, just before another set of spike strips at Milepost 15, the report states. He then crashed into a car stopped at the roundabout and came to a stop.
He can be seen on dash camera video from a trooper’s car searching around the center console of his car, according to investigators. Officers reportedly yelled at him to stop reaching. He then turned toward his window and put a hand out before the three officers shot him, according to the report. Hadley was treated and released from a hospital.
Other law enforcement agencies declined to assist in the pursuit if the only allegation against the driver, other than misdemeanor traffic violations, was eluding officers, the report states.
“First, it is difficult to imagine how simple infractions, such as failing to display a license plate or a defective taillight can lead to law enforcement firing their weapons,” the report states. “Regardless, Mr. Hadley, and only Mr. Hadley, made the decision to flee a valid traffic stop.”
Hadley is facing charges of second-degree assault, attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle and possession of a stolen firearm, court records show. His trial is scheduled for Jan. 3.
The report states that Kelso police’s initial traffic stop of Hadley did not justify deadly force, and deadly force would not have been justified throughout the pursuit. However, the panel determined deadly force was justified once Hadley led officers to believe he was arming himself with a gun, and he turned toward them.
“While the reviewing members cannot say, with certainty, the outcome would have been different, it is highly unlikely Mr. Hadley would have been shot had he simply not fled the traffic stop, opted to cease fleeing law enforcement, or if Trooper Bacheller and Trooper Tippets decided, or directed, to not pursue or terminate the pursuit,” the report states.
The panel could not determine from dash camera video whether Hadley was armed when he stuck his hand out the window.
However, Hadley allegedly told investigators there was a gun in the car, and he was searching for it in the center console. He reportedly said in an interview he was going to use the gun on himself, but when he couldn’t find it, he made quick movements hoping to be shot by police. A search of Hadley’s vehicle yielded a firearm, but the panel wrote that does not mean Hadley had it or displayed it when officers fired.
Hadley allegedly later told investigators he knew officers were trying to stop him, and he fled because he had warrants for his arrest. He also said he knew he was not allowed to have a gun due to his criminal history, according to a probable cause affidavit in his criminal case.