A Vancouver attorney has filed a tort claim on a Black motorist’s behalf, alleging he was unarmed and complying with police when they shot him, after he fled from a traffic stop and led officers on a high-speed chase along southbound Interstate 5.
Vencine T. Hadley, 48, of Portland, survived his wounds from the June 3, 2021, shooting.
Attorney Josephine Townsend filed the claim last week, alleging deprivation of civil rights, against the Cowlitz Tribal Police Department and Officer Austin Moore, who shot Hadley. She said Hadley already filed a similar suit against the Washington State Patrol alleging the same misconduct by Troopers Josh Bacheller and Evan Tippets, who also shot him.
The claim against the Cowlitz Tribal Police Department states Hadley is seeking $5 million after he suffered gunshot wounds to the torso and back, along with emotional distress. Hadley is seeking $10 million in damages from the State Patrol, Townsend said.
Townsend has also filed a similar claim against the Cowlitz Tribal Police Department on behalf of the passenger in Hadley’s car during the shooting, who Townsend said was hit by shrapnel and other debris. She intends to file a claim on the woman’s behalf against the State Patrol, she said.
In December, a statewide panel of prosecutors tasked with reviewing the shooting found that the officers’ use of deadly force was justified and lawful.
According to investigators, 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 State Patrol.
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, the panel’s report states.
Hadley eventually took Exit 16, where he 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 vehicle 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 panel’s report. Hadley was treated and released from a hospital.
A notice of the claim states that the dash camera video shows Hadley was unarmed and that “because the suspect was Black, the officers could not see clearly his hands were empty, and when he put his hand out the window as ordered, officers immediately shot him.”
Questions about tactics
Despite the review panel’s findings, it 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 panel’s report reads.
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.”
The panel could not determine from dash camera video whether Hadley was armed when he stuck his hand out the window.
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 his 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 car yielded a firearm, but the panel wrote that does not mean Hadley had it or displayed it when officers fired.
Townsend said she filed the tort claim because law enforcement can’t be objective when investigating police shootings; sometimes, the only way to get accountability is through the civil courts. The attorney said Hadley’s biggest goal is accountability and oversight of police so that something similar doesn’t happen again.
“The fact that someone is involved in a crime means they’re subject to arrest, but the force used has to be reasonable,” Townsend said. “Mr. Hadley was subject to arrest but that doesn’t mean you get to shoot to kill.”
Townsend said the shooting also placed others, including nearby drivers and Hadley’s passenger, in a potentially deadly situation.
Hadley was sentenced last week in Clark County Superior Court, in connection with the police chase, to four years and three months in prison. He pleaded guilty March 28 to attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle and possession of a stolen firearm.