Vancouver police Chief James McElvain wiped tears from his eyes at a press conference Thursday as he read a statement from slain police Officer Donald Sahota’s mother describing her son as someone who was “honest, kind, loved to help people.”
Although Sahota was off duty when he was killed Saturday night, McElvain said the shooting was the Vancouver Police Department’s first line-of-duty death since the agency’s inception in 1883.
The chief said the fallen officer had touched the lives of practically everyone in the department since his hiring in 2014.
“I can tell you that he has made a tremendous impact on each one of them,” McElvain said. “He’ll be sorely missed.”
Sahota, 52, was mistakenly shot at his home near Battle Ground by Clark County sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Feller during a manhunt for a robbery suspect. Feller was placed on critical incident leave, standard procedure in a use-of-force incident, according to the Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team from Cowlitz County, which is investigating the shooting.
McElvain described his disbelief when he first received the call that one of his officers had been shot in some sort of incident. He didn’t initially have the specifics, but he said he struggled to understand how that could’ve happened. He’s never received that type of phone call before.
Clark County deputies were pursuing a robbery suspect, identified as 20-year-old Julio Cesar Segura of Yakima, from Orchards to Battle Ground, before the man ran from his immobilized car to Sahota’s house, according to a statement from the major crimes team.
Sahota’s wife called 911 to report that a stranger had pounded on her family’s front door asking for help because he’d just crashed his car. The man, later identified as Segura, matched the description of the robbery suspect, investigators said.
She also told dispatch her husband was an off-duty police officer and was holding Segura at gunpoint, according to court records.
The men began struggling in the driveway. Sahota lost control of his firearm, and Segura stabbed him at least three times in the torso before breaking free and running toward Sahota’s house, according to investigators and court records.
When Feller and at least two additional law enforcement officers arrived, Sahota had regained control of his firearm and was running after Segura, who was still armed with the knife, as he tried to force his way into the home, investigators said.
Investigators said that within seconds of responding law enforcement officers arriving on scene, Feller fired several rounds from a rifle, striking Sahota. He collapsed on his front porch before officers determined he was the homeowner and not the robbery suspect.
A statement from Sahota’s wife and two children said they harbor no ill will toward Feller.
“The fact remains that one person is ultimately responsible for the death of Officer Sahota: the suspect who is in custody,” the statement said. “If this individual hadn’t made poor decision after poor decision and ended up inside our home, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”
McElvain said he’s talked with Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins since the shooting and knows those at the sheriff’s office are grieving, as well. The chief said he feels for the deputy who pulled the trigger.
“My heart goes out to the deputy,” he said. “This should have never occurred. And as the family said, this really rests on one person’s shoulders, and that’s the person who’s in custody.”
He said the department’s wellness and peer support staff have made themselves available at a moment’s notice to help those who are struggling with grief.
The outpouring of support from the community has been “nothing short of amazing,” McElvain said.
A police cruiser is parked outside of the agency’s headquarters through Monday for the public to decorate with flowers, cards and other items to memorialize the officer. Cards or letters to Sahota’s family or the department can also be mailed there, at 605 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver, WA 98661.
A bank account has also been set up for donations for the Sahota family. Anyone wishing to make a donation can visit a Chase bank branch and reference the Officer Sahota Memorial Fund.