The Clark County deputy who shot and killed Jenoah Donald in February during a traffic stop acted justifiably and shouldn’t face criminal charges, a panel of Washington prosecutors said Tuesday.
Five prosecutors scattered across the state wrote that the fatal Feb. 4 traffic stop outside Vancouver was flawed, but ultimately Deputy Sean Boyle acted “in good faith” when he shot Donald after the stop escalated into a physical confrontation.
Donald and Boyle struggled near and inside the gold sedan Donald drove that night. The engine revved during the altercation. In that moment, prosecutors said the car could be construed as a weapon.
“Donald’s refusal to exit the vehicle quickly escalated and Deputy Boyle, unable to reach his Taser, drew his weapon and shot Mr. Donald to protect himself and other deputies,” the prosecutors wrote.
Donald, a 30-year-old Black man, spent more than a week on life support and died Feb. 12.
The panel’s finding means it will not recommend criminal charges for Boyle or either of the other two deputies present at the scene. A civil case is still likely, after Donald’s family in June announced a planned $17 million lawsuit against Clark County.
Sue Zawacky, Donald’s mother, responded to the prosecutors’ findings with a statement, saying she hoped the officers involved would resign. She also called on the state to investigate.
“The family feels let down and disappointed. We hope the officers will resign for the good of the community because they don’t have the patience and skills for the job,” Zawacky said in a statement. “I don’t want any more families to lose their sons. Attorney General Bob Ferguson should look into this.”
The justified finding was a consensus among all the prosecutors who started reviewing the case in late April, said Jonathan Meyer, Lewis County’s elected prosecutor. Meyer was the only prosecutor who signed the review. The other prosecutors came from Pend Oreille, Yakima, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
“We all agreed on the conclusion … that no criminal charges should be filed,” Meyer told OPB.
There are no known witnesses and no video footage of Donald’s death, but investigators revealed a chaotic scene.
The night of Feb. 4, three deputies stopped Donald for a broken tail light in the unincorporated community of Hazel Dell. They had been responding to a complaint of a “drug house” in the area, according to investigators.
The stop escalated when one deputy thought she saw a weapon in Donald’s car. Investigators later said they believe the item was a screwdriver. When the deputy started yelling for Donald to show his hands, Boyle threatened to sic a police dog on Donald, and eventually punched him in the nose.
Boyle and Donald then wrestled, investigators said, and the engine of Donald’s sedan began to rev. Boyle told investigators Donald had grabbed his ballistics vest and pulled him toward the car. Boyle drew his gun, and said he issued a warning before shooting twice.
Neighbors to the scene told OPB they did not hear anything until the car idled forward across the lawns of two homes and struck a nearby fence.
In their analysis, prosecutors noted deputies gave commands to Donald rather than asking for his compliance. The prosecutors said the deputies also never explained their reasons for trying to get Donald out of the car. Still, the attorneys said, it’s unclear if a change in approach by the officers would have changed the outcome of the traffic stop.
The analysis also notes some procedural problems in the investigation. For example, a Clark County sergeant initially told Vancouver police that a search warrant likely wasn’t necessary, which prosecutors refuted after the fact. They also said investigators sometimes gave the involved deputies leading questions.
“It appeared some questions suggested the answer and left little for the interviewee to explain or expound on,” the prosecutors noted. “The members suggest this not occur in future interviews.”
In an interview, Meyer noted that the investigative materials haven’t shown whether Donald’s car was in motion or stationary at the time of the shooting.
That the task of analyzing the shooting fell to the team of prosecutors has been a recent pattern. In at least five shootings since April 2020, Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik has asked attorneys outside the county to review as a means to remove perceived conflicts of interest.
Golik said in a statement Tuesday he agreed with the panel’s review that Boyle acted justified.
“The death of Jenoah Donald was tragic and our hearts go out to his family,” he said. “The Clark County Prosecutor’s Office concurs with the reasoned opinion rendered by five independent Prosecuting Attorneys. The actions of Deputy Boyle in this case met the legal standards of lawful conduct.”
Tacoma-based attorney Mark Lindquist, who represents the family, called the traffic stop negligent and illegal.
“What’s clear is the officers unnecessarily escalated a petty traffic stop into a fatal shooting,” Lindquist said. “In this case, accountability and justice will come in our lawsuit.”