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News / Clark County News

Man killed by Vancouver police fired at cops; officers were wearing body cams

Shooting in Safeway parking lot caught on video, posted to social media

By Amy Libby, Columbian Web Editor, and
Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: May 31, 2023, 7:12pm
4 Photos
Police officers walk behind crime scene tape Tuesday, May 30, 2023, at the site of a fatal shooting in the Heights Shopping Center parking lot.
Police officers walk behind crime scene tape Tuesday, May 30, 2023, at the site of a fatal shooting in the Heights Shopping Center parking lot. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The man killed by police in a central Vancouver shopping center parking lot late Tuesday afternoon was wanted for multiple armed robberies and fired at pursuing officers, according to the Vancouver Police Department.

Authorities have not yet identified the man. The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office will release his name and cause and manner of death at a later time.

Three Vancouver police officers and a Clark County sheriff’s deputy fired their weapons. Investigators have not yet released their names. All four were placed on critical incident leave, according to a Tuesday night statement from Vancouver police.

Here is what police say happened: At about 5:30 p.m., a Vancouver detective from the Neighborhood Response Team spotted the robbery suspect driving west in the 6700 block of East Mill Plain Boulevard. Two additional detectives arrived and saw the man park his vehicle in the Heights Shopping Center lot. He went inside the Safeway supermarket. Police waited until they saw him leave the store, then tried to arrest him in the parking lot.

When the man saw the detectives, “he dropped a bag of items, displayed a firearm, ran westbound through the parking lot and during the attempt to apprehend him, the suspect fired at officers, and they returned fire,” the police department said in the Tuesday statement.

In a video recorded by a bystander and posted to social media, officers, with their guns drawn, can be seen running through the parking lot. Someone is then heard shouting, “He has a gun!” A few seconds later, what appears to be another officer is seen firing a weapon, and multiple gunshots can be heard.

The man appeared to have been shot near an alley in the shopping center, between Craft Cannabis and Northwest Health and Safety.

Officers called for paramedics and rendered first aid, but the man was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. No officers or members of the public were injured.

The information is preliminary, police said, and the investigation is ongoing.

Body cams worn

This is the first local police shooting since Vancouver officers were equipped with body-worn cameras in February. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office recently completed a test period for a body-worn camera system and has not yet implemented a program.

The Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team, led by the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, will investigate. The Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team will assist.

Additionally, the Vancouver Police Department notified the new Washington State Office of Independent Investigations. That office is not yet operational and will not review this shooting, according to spokesman Hector Castro. However, police agencies are still required by law to notify the office of incidents when officers use deadly force.

In compliance with state law, Vancouver Police Department and Clark County Sheriff’s Office personnel will not be involved in the investigation.

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Once the Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team investigation is complete, the case will be forwarded to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review.

At that point, Prosecutor Tony Golik said, his office will review the report for any conflict with his office and determine who will complete the formal review.

The scene on Wednesday

By Wednesday morning, the only evidence of a crime scene that remained in the parking lot were painted orange circles marking where evidence tents stood the night before and two boarded windows with shattered glass on the ground beneath.

John Devlin, regional manager at Craft Cannabis, said Wednesday morning that it was strange to return to work after the shooting just outside of the store the afternoon before. He said it was shocking to see something like that so close.

“You don’t expect something like that to go down, especially so close to home,” Devlin said. “That’s something you see on YouTube or on the news, not necessarily while you’re at work, right next door.”

He recalled arriving at the store about 15 minutes after the shooting in order to check on employees and customers. He said that when the gunfire erupted, staff ushered customers from the parking lot into the store, where they stayed for about an hour while police conducted their investigation.

After officers interviewed everyone, Devlin said, he and his staff closed the store for the night and everyone went home.

Devlin said the store’s security footage captured the man running toward the alley next to the store. Eventually, Devlin said, the man could be seen turning and pointing a gun at officers.

It was unclear from the security footage who fired first, Devlin said, but he noted that there were people behind the officers who could’ve been in the gunman’s line of fire.

Devlin applauded investigators for the way they handled the situation, and he said he believes the police officers were defending themselves.

“I’m just really thankful for them,” Devlin said of the officers, “because it could have been a much worse situation, with him running in this direction — if he would have decided to come in here, he would have had hostages and things like that.”

He said he’s grateful that no bystanders were injured and there wasn’t any damage to the store.

This isn’t the first shooting in that shopping center parking lot this year. A confrontation that resulted in a shooting left one person dead in March. Two people have been arrested in connection with that incident.