Local advocacy groups, including the YWCA Clark County and the NAACP of Vancouver, condemned the actions of Vancouver police Officer Andrea Mendoza after she was captured on video threatening to use her Taser on the genitals of a suspected shoplifter.
In a Saturday statement, the YWCA called Mendoza’s actions “sexually exploitative and barbaric.” The group said she demonstrated a disregard for humanity.
Nickeia Hunter, vice president of the local NAACP chapter, said the organization appreciates the police agency’s use of body cameras and the chief’s condemnation of Mendoza’s actions. But Hunter said excessive force and dehumanizing policing tactics have become the norm in the county.
The chapter joined the YWCA in calling for Mendoza’s firing and accountability from the department’s officer guild, which backed Mendoza in a statement last week.
“Moreover, we are asking for a fair, transparent prosecution process, termination of employment and a calling out of the police unions that protect these reckless officers,” Hunter said in an email. “How can we trust a system that doesn’t remove officers that display such gross behaviors?”
In its statement, the YWCA said it supports the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s decision to charge Mendoza with fourth-degree assault. Mendoza, 38, is scheduled to appear Aug. 11 in Clark County District Court.
“Police officers who use severe force, especially when of a sexually exploitative nature, should not be entrusted to protect our community,” YWCA CEO Brittini Lasseigne said in the statement. “We advocate for the Vancouver Police Officers’ Guild to maintain integrity and accountability in any engagement with the offending officer, considering the severity of the incident and the possible intersection with racial bias.” (The suspected shoplifter was a Black man.)
The police guild previously criticized the prosecutor’s office for charging Mendoza. In last week’s statement, the guild said, “Mendoza did not commit a crime. She did her job.”
On Thursday, the Vancouver Police Department released a video summary of the May 21 incident, including police body-worn camera footage and store surveillance video. In a statement, Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori called Mendoza’s actions disturbing.
Mendoza remains on paid leave while the criminal case and an internal investigation continue, police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.
All use-of-force incidents are reviewed by supervisors, the police department said, and on May 24, Mendoza’s supervisor notified the chief. She was subsequently placed on leave, the police news release states.
The police department opened an internal investigation and referred the case to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office for independent review.
On July 20, the sheriff’s office forwarded its investigation to the prosecutor’s office for review. The prosecutor’s office filed the assault charge July 25, according to the police news release.
Mendoza and Officer Gabriel Patterson responded shortly before 10 p.m. May 21 to the Walmart at 221 N.E. 104th Ave., in central Vancouver. Loss prevention employees requested officers issue trespass notices to a man and woman whom they said they saw conceal merchandise and leave without paying, according to the affidavit filed in Mendoza’s case.
When they arrived, the officers approached two people who matched the pair’s description and told them they weren’t free to leave, the police news release states. One officer grabbed the man, whom they identified as Elijah Guffey-Prejean, and the woman with him ran, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit notes there is no audio for the first 30 seconds of the video until the two officers and Guffey-Prejean can be seen going to the ground, with Guffey-Prejean on his back.
The officers then told him to roll over, and Guffey-Prejean did so before getting up to run, the affidavit states. The news release states he punched one officer in the face and kicked the other in the chest as he fled. Patterson is later seen in the video rubbing his face.
The video shows the officers grappling with Guffey-Prejean before Patterson takes him back to the ground on his stomach. Mendoza can be seen using her Taser on Guffey-Prejean’s back, and he’s heard groaning before eventually saying, “I’m done.”
Guffey-Prejean is seen rolling onto his back, and Mendoza presses the Taser to his genitals. At one point, the officer tells him she will use the stun gun on his genitals if he doesn’t stop. Guffey-Prejean can be heard repeating, “I’m done.”
Investigators determined Mendoza held the Taser to Guffey-Prejean’s genitals for 24 seconds, court records state.
Patterson has not been placed on leave, Kapp said Friday, but he’s subject to the same internal investigation as Mendoza.
Third-degree assault and third-degree theft charges against Guffey-Prejean have been dismissed, according to court records.