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Investigation: Deputy shot off-duty Vancouver police officer 4 seconds after arriving

Clark County sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Feller describes Jan. 29 shooting as “very fluid, very fast”

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor, and
, Columbian staff writer
Published:

The Clark County sheriff’s deputy who mistakenly shot Vancouver police Officer Donald Sahota fired four shots within four seconds of arriving at the off-duty officer’s Battle Ground home, killing him.

Deputy Jonathan Feller described what led up to the shooting on the night of Jan. 29 as being “very fluid, very fast.”

Video footage shows Feller park in front of the house, climb out of his SUV and take a shooting stance before firing his personal rifle, striking Sahota, three times and the house once with .223 caliber rounds.

Feller, who told investigators his use of a personal firearm had been approved by the department, said he believed he had shot an armed robbery suspect whom law enforcement officers were pursuing.

The new information, released Friday by the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, comes from hundreds of pages of investigative reports compiled by the Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team, including photos, videos, and audio of 911 calls and interviews with those involved in the incident.

The shooting investigation will be reviewed by prosecutors to determine if Feller should face criminal charges.

In a Feb. 6 interview with investigators, Feller said he saw a man, who generally matched the description of the robbery suspect, pick up a gun from the ground in front of Sahota’s house. The man then ran toward the house. Feller said he ordered the man to get on the ground, but the man didn’t respond and tried to force his way through the front door.

A video compilation of the incident shows the man kicking the front door several times; it also states that a witness heard Feller give commands.

“I believed that if that person got in the house, that they’d kill them,” Feller said through sobs in his recorded interview with investigators. “And I had to stop that person from getting in and hurting the innocent people. So I fired my gun, multiple times, and tried to assess if they were being affected.”

He later told investigators that “it happened so fast, I didn’t see any alternative.”

But moments later, he realized he had shot Sahota, 52, the homeowner and an off-duty police officer.

“It was a blur there for a little while, and I felt hollowed out, very much gutted at that point,” he said.

The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office found that Sahota died from multiple gunshot wounds to the torso.

Shooting followed robbery, pursuit

Prior to the shooting, law enforcement drone and aircraft footage also captured the confrontation and struggle between Sahota and the robbery suspect, identified as Julio Cesar Segura, 20, of Yakima.

Segura stabbed Sahota three times with a Rough Rider folding knife, according to the investigative records. Though Sahota died from the gunshot wounds, investigators say the stab wounds to his upper torso and abdomen caused “great bodily harm.”

Prosecutors are making the case that Segura’s actions led to the killing, and they have charged him with multiple felonies, including murder.

His defense attorneys attempted to block the release of the shooting investigation, arguing Segura is a witness and that it could prejudice his criminal case. A Clark County Superior Court judge denied their motion.

At 8:14 p.m. Jan. 29, a clerk at Chevron, 9810 N.E. 117th Ave., in Orchards called 911 to report he was just robbed at gunpoint. He said a man pointed a handgun at his chest and demanded all of the money in the register. The clerk provided a suspect description and last known direction, investigative records show.

Deputies were dispatched to the robbery call. They found probable cause for first-degree robbery, 10 minutes after the clerk’s call. Two minutes later, the suspect vehicle, a silver Mercedes, was seen traveling north on Interstate 205 from Padden Parkway. The Mercedes reached speeds of 100 mph, according to investigators’ video compilation.

The pursuit lasted about five minutes, before law enforcement officers deployed spike strips near Northeast 72nd Avenue and 179th Street. The Mercedes missed the spike strip and crashed. The driver, later identified by investigators as Segura, ran from the car to the area of Northeast 219th Street and 79th Court, according to the investigation.

Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to help set up a containment area. The investigation says that in addition to the sheriff’s office, the Vancouver, Ridgefield and Battle Ground police departments, and Washington State Patrol responded, in addition to Southwest Washington Regional SWAT and a crisis negotiator. Feller responded as part of the Quick Reaction Team, which addresses “any imminent threats that occur in the containment area” before SWAT arrives, according to investigative records.

At 8:51 p.m., responding officers received an updated description of the suspect; it was the third description that had gone out — a dark- or tan-skinned white male with shaggy hair and glasses, wearing a long sleeve shirt, black undershirt, blue jeans, and white, flat bill baseball cap, investigative records state.

One minute later, a drone operator spotted someone walking on Northeast 84th Avenue. That person, who investigators believed was the robbery suspect, ran toward the Sahota home’s front porch. At 8:56 p.m., Sahota’s wife called 911 to report that a stranger was at their door acting suspicious; he told them he crashed his car, she said, and they could hear sirens in the area, according to the video compilation. Sahota’s wife told the 911 dispatcher that her husband is a police officer and armed.

A dispatcher told Sahota’s wife that she and her husband should close the door and stay inside because officers were searching for a man in the area. The dispatcher tried to get a description from her, and Sahota is then heard relaying a description in the background of the call.

Segura told investigators that Sahota said he could not help him and shut the door on him. The drone video shows Segura walking away from the house. When paired with 911 audio, Sahota is then heard calling to Segura to come back. Sahota’s wife told the 911 dispatcher that they were trying to keep Segura there, according to the audio.

By 8:57 p.m., Sahota exited the house with a handgun and ordered Segura to the ground. Sahota’s wife told the dispatcher she was trying to find handcuffs to assist her husband. Moments later, the two men started struggling, according to the investigative records.

Struggle ensues

The confrontation lasted 1 minute and 45 seconds.

In the aerial footage, the two men are seen fighting. Sahota’s wife tells the dispatcher Segura is hitting him. An object, officers believe to be a gun, is seen falling to the ground. Then a man, later found to be Segura, runs to the house and forces his way inside. The force of the door opening strikes Sahota’s wife in the forehead, causing a large bruise, according to the investigation.

Sahota turned to pick up the gun from the ground, as Feller drove up to the house, and ran to the front door. At some point, Sahota’s 9 mm handgun fired and hit the frame of the front door, though responding officers did not recall seeing or hearing anything, the investigative records show.

Moments after Feller shot Sahota, his wife ran out of the garage toward officers, shouting about her husband. When officers gave the wounded man on the porch commands to show his hands, Segura opened the front door and stuck his hands out. He then came out, hands in the air, and laid down on the ground, according to the investigation. Officers took him into custody and provided Sahota medical aid, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

In an interview from the back of a patrol car, Segura admitted to deputies that he had stabbed Sahota, and in a follow-up interview, said that Sahota had identified himself as a police officer, according to audio and written summaries of the interviews.

“That’s all I had to do was lay there and wait for you guys to show up, but no, I fought back,” he told a deputy in the patrol vehicle. In the follow-up interview, he said his “primal instinct” took over.

“I really hate that that happened. But it did happen, and I’m not going to lie about it, whine about it. It happened, I did it. I make my own decisions, and I’m going to have to live with the consequences. It’s going to hurt my mom, family and those who want to see me do good,” he later added, from the back of the patrol vehicle.

Segura told investigators he believed he’d killed Sahota, according to the follow-up interview.

He also admitted to robbing the Chevron earlier that night and leading officers on a car chase. Segura said the weapon he used in the robbery was an airsoft Glock replica; he believed he dropped it in a nearby swamp area while running from officers. Investigators later found it in a wooded area. He also told investigators he stole the Mercedes from a dealership in Yakima two days prior and planned to drive it around the United States, according to investigative records.

During his initial interview Segura repeatedly asked the deputies why they were being so nice to him.

“But I acted so inhuman today,” he said. “I can’t even recognize who I’ve become. I’m not this person.”

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