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News / Clark County News

Vancouver police Officer Andrea Mendoza defends actions in arrest of suspected shoplifter

She testifies threat to use Taser on genitals ended suspect’s resisting arrest

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 20, 2024, 6:06am

Vancouver police Officer Andrea Mendoza, who’s accused of pulling down the pants of a shoplifting suspect and threatening to use her Taser on his genitals, took the stand to defend herself in her assault trial Friday.

She told the jury that, looking back on the May 21 incident, she has not come up with a better alternative to get the suspect to stop resisting arrest.

She said she was not trying to embarrass Elijah Guffey-Prejean, 20, when she exposed his genitals during a struggle in an east Vancouver Walmart parking lot.

Mendoza is charged in Clark County District Court with fourth-degree assault. Her trial began Thursday and is scheduled to resume Monday morning with closing arguments before the jury will begin deliberating.

Mendoza’s testimony came hours after the jury heard from Guffey-Prejean, who was 19 years old at the time, that he was embarrassed and shocked when the officer exposed him.

Mendoza said Friday she hasn’t used that tactic in any other arrests, and she agreed she hasn’t been trained to do that.

She said Guffey-Prejean’s pants were sagging and his genitals were already partially exposed when she pulled his pants and underwear further down and threatened him with her Taser. She said she was trying to gain control of his lower body, and she knew his groin to be a sensitive area that would be effective to get him to stop fighting.

“My intention was to stop the fight,” Mendoza said. “It was going on long enough.”

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Practice not encouraged

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Boyd questioned Mendoza about whether she could’ve pressed her Taser against his genitals and threatened him without exposing him, and Mendoza agreed she could have. A Vancouver police training officer also testified that the shock from the Taser can penetrate clothing, and there would be no reason to expose skin for the Taser to be effective.

Mendoza said Guffey-Prejean kicked her in the chest twice during struggle. She said he’d previously told her and her fellow officer that he was done fighting but then continued to try to get away.

Guffey-Prejean said he kept resisting until he felt the metal of the Taser press against his genitals. Then, he said he stopped fighting immediately.

He said he recalled remaining exposed until after he asked more than once for the officers to cover him back up.

Video of the incident showed he remained exposed for nearly two minutes, even after he was handcuffed. The jury watched video footage of the incident multiple times throughout the day.

Mendoza said she didn’t hear him ask the first time because of radio chatter, but she did cover him up when she heard him ask the second time.

Guffey-Prejean’s testimony followed that of a Vancouver police training officer who told the jury that the department’s policies do not encourage officers to use their Tasers on people’s genitals and he has never trained any officers to do that.

The jury viewed a presentation from the Taser’s manufacturer used in a 2022 training Mendoza attended. The slideshow lists the groin as an area officers should try to avoid when using the equipment on someone.

Vancouver police officers testified throughout the day either for the prosecution or the defense about the department’s training policies and what constitutes a reasonable amount of force to use to arrest someone. Some law enforcement witnesses debated what other options Mendoza and her fellow officer had to subdue Guffey-Prejean and whether they would’ve been effective.