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News / Clark County News

Jury acquits Vancouver police Officer Andrea Mendoza in misdemeanor assault trial

She was accused of threatening to use Taser on shoplifting suspect's genitals

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 22, 2024, 3:41pm
3 Photos
Vancouver police Officer Andrea Mendoza watches her body camera footage Monday during closing arguments in her misdemeanor assault trial in Clark County District Court. Mendoza faced the assault charge after threatening to use her Taser on the genitals of a suspected shoplifter in May.
Vancouver police Officer Andrea Mendoza watches her body camera footage Monday during closing arguments in her misdemeanor assault trial in Clark County District Court. Mendoza faced the assault charge after threatening to use her Taser on the genitals of a suspected shoplifter in May. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Jurors found Vancouver police Officer Andrea Mendoza not guilty Monday in her misdemeanor assault trial. Mendoza was accused of pulling down the pants of a shoplifting suspect and threatening to use her Taser on his genitals.

The Vancouver Police Officers’ Guild in a statement called the verdict the “right and just result.”

“We are thankful that the jury acknowledged reality: that Officer Mendoza did her best to react to a violent altercation, performed her lawful duty, and stopped herself and her partner from being further assaulted, all with minimal force,” the guild’s statement says.

The six-person jury deliberated for nearly five hours before returning the acquittal shortly before 3 p.m. The trial began Thursday in Clark County District Court.

After Judge Kristen Parcher read the verdict, Mendoza hugged her husband and attorney. She smiled at her supporters in the gallery, including several wearing Vancouver Police Department uniforms.

Mendoza declined to comment on the verdict outside the courtroom.

Defense attorney John Terry said in an emailed statement he was confident the jury would find Mendoza not guilty after watching the video and hearing the testimony. He called it an honor to represent Mendoza.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Boyd thanked the jurors for their time and attention in an emailed statement.

Before beginning deliberations Monday morning, jurors listened to closing arguments in the case.

They watched the videos from body cameras and surveillance cameras multiple times. The footage captured Mendoza and another officer as they responded to a call May 21 of two people shoplifting from an east Vancouver Walmart. When the officers tried to arrest one of the suspected shoplifters, Elijah Guffey-Prejean, then 19, he fought against the officers. While the officers struggled to arrest him, Mendoza can be seen pulling down his pants and threatening to use her Taser on his genitals.

Boyd told the jury Mendoza assaulted Guffey-Prejean when she exposed him and that her threat of force against him was not reasonable or necessary. She said there were other ways Mendoza could’ve tried to get Guffey-Prejean to stop fighting, including threatening him with her Taser over his clothing.

“There’s no disagreement law enforcement had reason to arrest Elijah that night,” Boyd said. “But police officers are not above the law. It does not mean that anything law enforcement does is legal, just because law enforcement is doing it.”

Terry, the defense attorney, told the jury Mendoza’s use of force was lawful, and it was in self-defense and defense of her partner after Guffey-Prejean struck them both during the struggle. He emphasized Mendoza was engaged in a fast-moving fight with Guffey-Prejean, and Guffey-Prejean testified he only stopped fighting when he felt the metal of the Taser against the skin of his genitals.

“We’re not here to decide whether Ms. Mendoza’s actions were perfect. We’re not here to decide whether Ms. Mendoza could’ve used some additional training,” Terry said. “We’re here to decide whether or not a crime occurred.”

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Terry disagreed Mendoza had other alternatives, and he said police department policy doesn’t overtly prohibit officers from using the tactic Mendoza used.

The prosecutor said policy doesn’t prohibit exposing someone’s genitals because it’s not something police leadership would’ve thought to include. She said it would not have been acceptable if a male officer did the same thing to a female suspect.

Boyd asked the jury to keep in mind the amount of time Guffey-Prejean was exposed. She repeatedly noted the 24 seconds Mendoza had her Taser pressed against his genitals and the nearly two minutes that passed before she pulled up his pants.

Mendoza remained on administrative leave at the start of her trial, and a department investigation into whether her actions violated policy was paused pending the outcome of the case.

“With the conclusion of the trial, the Vancouver Police Department Professional Standards Unit will now resume the internal investigation,” the police department said in a news release. Mendoza remains on administrative leave.

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