Despite a written bulletin warning “DO NOT attempt contact” with Kfin Karuo, Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputies consciously pursued him on Oct. 17, setting off a short and fateful car chase.
When he was confronted outside his crashed SUV, Karuo reportedly twice pointed a gun at a deputy, the deputy told investigators four days later.
Those are a couple of the details revealed in hundreds of pages of documents newly made public by the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office. Prosecutor Tony Golik is preparing to request an outside review of the police shooting, as he has done with several recent shootings.
The documents reveal some of the quick and tangled decision-making leading up to Karuo’s fatal shooting at the hands of Clark County deputies. To date, there have been no outside witnesses nor footage of the event.
The documents also show the Vancouver Police Department was significantly involved in Karou’s pursuit that night. The agency would then go on to lead the shooting investigation. Police reform advocates have called Vancouver’s tie to the case “an obvious red flag.”
Karuo had been under investigation since Sept. 29 for reportedly pointing a gun at a man in his car at a parking lot. According to court records, the Vancouver police placed a GPS tracker on Karuo’s vehicle and were actively building a case against him. The tracker was active the night of the shooting.
The documents reveal one Vancouver police officer participated in the chase. When that officer was interviewed for the shooting investigation, a Vancouver detective conducted the interview, according to police records.
Washington’s Initiative 940, which passed in 2018, was supposed to make investigations into police killings more independent, and to keep agencies from investigating incidents they were a part of. So the role Vancouver police have played —with an officer involved the night Kafuo was killed, then other officers in the same agency investigating the incident afterwards — has raised eyebrows.
Nickeia Hunter, who is chair of the NAACP’s legal redress committee and whose brother Carlos Hunter was killed by Vancouver police in 2019, said the new details strain the public’s trust in the investigation.
“It’s a conflict-of-interest, it’s outrageous, it’s egregious,” Hunter said. “They knew all along … that they had an officer on the scene. They know every step of the way. They chose not to tell. So at what point do we choose to hold them accountable?”
A spokesperson for the Vancouver police department did not respond to OPB’s questions. Karuo’s family members also declined to speak, saying they were still searching for a lawyer who would take up the case.
The chase on Oct. 17 was set in motion after a conversation between a Clark County deputy and his sergeant, the documents show.
Around 1 a.m., Clark County deputy Michael Gonzalez and Sgt. Erik Zimmerman discussed seeing a white Ford Expedition driven by a man of Pacific Islander descent – a potential match for Karuo’s description.
The two had seen the Vancouver police flier. The flier reported Karuo might be armed, and advised to use extreme caution when contacting him. But it also warned: “DO NOT attempt contact with Kfin Karuo.”
Gonzalez later told investigators that he interpreted the flier to mean do not go locate him at his home, but he perceived the orders differently if Karuo was in public. He and Zimmerman told investigators they saw Karuo at the exact same parking lot as the Sept. 29 incident.
“I discussed with (Zimmerman). I said, ‘Are we gonna pursue this guy?’ and he said ‘Absolutely,’” Gonzalez told investigators.
Gonzalez, a deputy who joined Clark County Sheriff’s Office in May after a stint with the Portland Police Bureau during which he was involved in a 2019 fatal shooting, said he and Zimmerman worried about other “potential victims out there that we may not even know about.”
After 2 a.m., Gonzalez spotted Karou’s vehicle again, the documents show. He radioed for backup. He followed the white SUV in a business parking lot, then flashed a spotlight on the car to confirm the driver and the license plate, the documents show.
Karuo drove away to a nearby apartment complex – the Alder Creek Apartments, where Karuo lived. Gonzalez told investigators that he followed into the apartment parking lot.
“He’s rolling about six, seven miles per hour. Very slowly,” Gonzalez said. “And you can tell he’s watching me. So, again, keeping my distance and just waiting for, you know, some cover there to develop some sort of plan.”
Karuo eventually stopped, Gonzalez told investigators. The deputy said he stopped, too, and stepped out of his vehicle. He went to talk with Karuo and “downplay the whole situation,” but the 28-year-old cursed at Gonzalez and drove away.
“It was pretty clear to me that he was going to start running – start fleeing in the vehicle,” Gonzalez said.
The chase lasted about two-and-a-half minutes, according to the documents, running a circuit through Vancouver’s North Image neighborhood.
Karuo drove out of the apartment lot and headed west on Northeast 49th Street, according to law enforcement, driving at first into the oncoming traffic lane. Then, he went a short distance north on Northeast 112th Avenue before turning east on Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard.
Other deputies and police had begun appearing. Gonzalez, the first car behind Karuo’s SUV, recalled seeing a “conga line” of law enforcement behind him. Zimmerman and a sergeant with Vancouver police both radioed to authorize pursuit.
Immediately behind him in the pursuit was fellow Clark County deputy with the same last name, Forrest Gonzalez, along with Vancouver police officer James Porter and Clark County deputy David Delin.
Eventually, Karuo turned back toward the apartments where it all started.
According to the records, Michael Gonzalez then conducted a pursuit intervention technique. He used his front fender to swipe and turn into Karuo’s back, passenger side.
The move sent Karuo’s SUV tail-first into a berm, the records show.
Michael Gonzalez continued to drive onward. The technique, he said, called for the cars behind him to start penning in the now-disabled vehicle.
Michael Gonzalez parked his vehicle on the road at angle, he told investigators, to cordon off oncoming traffic.
When he stepped out, he heard gunshots.
“As I’m exiting my vehicle, I hear ‘pop pop pop pop pop pop.’”
According to one of the two deputies who shot, Karuo twice pointed a gun at him in the encounter.
The white Ford Expedition had careened backward into a berm. Those on scene told investigators that the car started to move down the berm when Forrest Gonzalez, in the second car, stopped it with the front end of his vehicle.
Forrest Gonzalez told investigators he started to see Karuo climbing out of the SUV. He stepped out and saw Karuo slinking his left arm out the window.
Then, he told investigators, Karuo’s right arm made a “sweeping motion” across the dashboard and the deputy saw a gun in his hand.
“Obviously there’s a heightened sense of emergency even more to get out of vehicle,” Forrest Gonzalez told investigators. “I drew my firearm and he continued to attempt to get out of the vehicle.”
Forrest Gonzalez, who has been in law enforcement for five years, said he shouted at Karuo to drop the gun. He told investigators, then, that Karuo pulled his right arm out of the window, lifted the gun over the sideview mirror and pointed at him. The deputy fired.
“He took the firearm, which was in his right hand, and pushed it over the driver’s side mirror, the side mirror. Pushed it out over it and past the windshield and pointed it directly at me,” Forrest Gonzalez said.
Photos provided in the records show two bullet holes in Karuo’s SUV – one in the hood and another in the windshield. Forrest Gonzalez said he couldn’t tell if any of the shots struck Karou.
Karuo managed to exit through the window, Forrest Gonzalez said, and ran up the berm. The deputy said he had moved to take cover near the rear of his own SUV.
Porter, the Vancouver police officer, reported pulling over. He heard several shots, he told investigators, and took out his gun.
Delin, the Clark County deputy with three-and-a-half years of experience, drove his SUV past and parked parallel to Forrest Gonzalez’s driver side. Delin said he could hear the gunshots and heard Forrest Gonzalez shouting that Karuo had pointed a gun.
“I just know I heard gunshots. I heard he had a gun,” Delin said.
Delin told investigators that he saw Karuo come from behind the disabled Expedition. Delin never reported seeing Karuo point a weapon, but he still pulled the trigger when he saw Karuo, the records said.
“I did not see it, but I believe that it was there. I did not take time for it to be pointed at me or shot at me. I believe at that time he had a gun and he tried to kill Forrest, or Forrest was dead,” Delin told investigators. “I didn’t know ‘cause I couldn’t see him.”
After Delin shot, Karuo continued past the berm toward a mobile home park. Forrest Gonzalez followed partially up the berm.
As Karuo neared a manufactured home, he slowed, deputies told investigators. According to Forrest Gonzalez, Karuo turned and aimed again at Forrest Gonzalez, who opened fire once more.
Karuo’s body was ultimately found around the manufactured home’s corner, in a driveway.
The Clark County medical examiner ruled Karuo died from a gunshot wound to the torso. It’s unclear exactly how many times deputies shot Karuo. Officers recovered 17 shell casings from the scene, records show.
According to Wila Gray, Karuo’s aunt, the family is still seeking an attorney to look into the 28-year-old’s death. Without witnesses or footage, the newly released documents provide the only accounting so far of the evening.
In recent years, Washington state has passed laws designed to build greater transparency around the process of police shooting reviews.
In 2018, Washington began requiring deadly force incidents to be taken up by an independent investigative team – or IIT. Vancouver police led the IIT into Karuo’s shooting.
Kim Kapp, a police spokesperson, previously told OPB that despite Vancouver police’s active investigation into Karuo, none of those investigating officers were members of the IIT. Porter did not serve on the IIT.
The Vancouver police and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to multiple questions about the investigation, or how one agency’s active investigation and GPS tracking could still result in a fatal encounter.
There are examples of cases where investigators’ potential conflicts have raised questions, and even debilitated, an investigation.
In one notable March 2020 case, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office led the IIT initially tasked to investigate the Tacoma police killing of a Tacoma resident named Manuel Ellis. Ellis was restrained and died due to oxygen deprivation, KNKX reported.
Gov. Jay Inslee later ordered a new investigation when it became known that a Pierce County deputy had been present during the fatal encounter.
This summer, Washington is expected to launch the state’s first-ever Office of Independent Investigations, authorized to lead investigations into shootings it deems fit. IITs would continue in most cases.
A representative for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office declined to comment for this article. A spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said he wasn’t in a position to speak specifically on the Karuo case.
“Theoretically the governor could still refer a case to the (Attorney General) right now. There are already others we’ve been asked about referring, but we need a better process for it and that’s what (the Office of Independent Investigations) should accomplish,” said spokesman Mike Faulk.
Tony Golik, the prosecuting attorney, said he’s making sure the outside prosecutors who will review the Karuo investigation are aware Vancouver police participated in the pursuit and were on scene for the shooting.
“A request (for a new investigation) can certainly be made,” Golik said. “At this point, my intent is to … ask for an outside review by prosecutors who are well-removed from the case.”