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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Feb. 27, 2024

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Vancouver Police Officers’ Guild criticizes charges against officer in use-of-force incident

Andrea Mendoza faces fourth-degree assault; “Mendoza did not commit a crime. She did her job,” says guild

By , Columbian Local News Editor

The Vancouver Police Officers’ Guild has lambasted local prosecutors’ decision to charge a Vancouver police officer with misdemeanor assault after she was captured on video pulling down the pants of a man suspected of shoplifting and threatening to use a Taser on his genitals.

The officer, Andrea Mendoza, 38, is scheduled to appear on a summons Aug. 11 in Clark County District Court for fourth-degree assault.

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 the statement, Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori called Mendoza’s actions disturbing.

Mendoza has worked for the police department for about six years, according to police spokeswoman Kim Kapp. She is currently assigned to patrol but remains on paid leave while the criminal case and an internal investigation continue, Kapp said.

Editor's note: This video contains graphic content from security cameras and police body-worm cameras. It may be disturbing to some readers.Video

In its statement Thursday night, the guild argued “Mendoza did not commit a crime. She did her job.”

“In response, the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has lost sight of its core obligation to hold criminals accountable. The prosecuting attorney’s office withdrew criminal charges against the combative suspect and has instead baselessly charged Officer Mendoza with misdemeanor assault. That shocks the conscience,” the guild’s statement reads, in part.

The prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Friday morning.

On May 25, the prosecutor’s office filed charges of third-degree assault and third-degree theft against the man, identified in court records as 19-year-old Elijah Guffey-Prejean. But the case, filed in Clark County Superior Court, was dismissed without prejudice five days later, court records show. An order for dismissal states the reason being in the “interest of justice.”

The guild said Guffey-Prejean did not consider himself a victim, nor did he want Mendoza charged.

During his interview with investigators, Guffey-Prejean allegedly admitted to resisting officers’ attempts to arrest him. He said he felt violated when the officer exposed his genitals, according to the probable cause affidavit filed in Mendoza’s case.

He also told investigators he did not know if he felt like the victim of a crime. When asked if a crime had occurred would he want to be the victim, he said “No. I don’t think so.” When asked if a crime had occurred would he want the officer charged, he said, “No. I don’t think so. I mean, I’ll think about it, like, I don’t know,” the affidavit states.

The guild described Mendoza as a decorated member of the police department, military veteran, mother of two young children and member of the Latino community.

“No officer should fear being charged with a crime for faithfully doing their job. Yet that is the new norm that the prosecuting attorney’s office has now announced with this tortured, baseless criminal charge against Officer Mendoza,” the guild said. “We are confident that after all the facts are presented to a jury, Officer Mendoza will be exonerated.”

Use-of-force review

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 charge Tuesday, 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 trespass 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 Guffey-Prejean, and the woman with him ran away, 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. Patterson can be seen cutting Guffey-Prejean’s backpack straps.

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.”

Then, Mendoza can be seen pulling Guffey-Prejean’s pants down and putting the Taser against his buttocks. She’s heard saying, “Knock it off or I’ll do it in your nuts,” the affidavit says.

Guffey-Prejean is seen rolling onto his back, and Mendoza presses the Taser to his genitals. At one point, the officer again 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 can be seen putting handcuffs on Guffey-Prejean, who’s heard asking the officer to put his penis away, and Mendoza pulls up his pants.

Second officer under investigation

After the struggle, Guffey-Prejean complained of being unable to breathe, and Patterson cut the man’s sweatshirt away from his face, the affidavit in Mendoza’s case states. Guffey-Prejean was taken to an area hospital for treatment.

Patterson wrote in his affidavit in Guffey-Prejean’s case that the man was taken to the hospital for a drug overdose, and the officers had administered Narcan.

He also wrote that Mendoza used her stun gun on Guffey-Prejean’s leg. He does not say it was used on the man’s buttocks or held against his genitals.

In an interview with investigators, Patterson said he believed Mendoza had used the stun gun on Guffey-Prejean’s lower back area. He said he never saw the man’s genitals exposed, but he heard Guffey-Prejean ask the officers to put his penis away; he said he didn’t know what the man was talking about.

Patterson has not been placed on leave, Kapp said Friday, but he’s subject to the same internal investigation as Mendoza. He’s been with the department since January 2021 and is assigned to patrol, she said.