The family of a man shot and killed by Clark County deputies during a traffic stop last February has filed a wrongful death lawsuit arguing the stop was illegal and deputies escalated the encounter.
Jenoah Donald, a 30-year-old Black man, suffered a gunshot wound to the head during the Feb. 4 traffic stop. He died after a week on life support.
The complaint, filed Thursday morning in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington, names deputy Sean Boyle, who shot Donald, and deputy Holly Troupe, who reportedly saw a screwdriver belonging to Donald in his car and believed it to be a deadly weapon.
The complaint also names the county, Sheriff Chuck Atkins and multiple unknown county employees that litigators believe have been “responsible for the promulgation” of negligent deadly force policies within the sheriff’s office.
Donald’s mother, Sue Zawacky, and the mothers of his three minor children are listed as plaintiffs. The complaint doesn’t specify the damages they seek. In a tort claim last June, the family stated they intended to seek $17 million.
“One of my hopes is that the truth and justice comes out, people are held accountable, things change,” Zawacky said at a June press conference. “What happened to my son is not supposed to happen.”
Atkins and County Manager Kathleen Otto, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.
The weight of other recent, deadly shootings by Clark County deputies is leveraged in the 15-page complaint.
Tacoma-based Herrmann Law Group cites the shooting of 21-year-old Kevin Peterson Jr. during a drug sting, which occurred less than three months before Donald’s shooting, as well as the killing of off-duty Vancouver police officer Donald Sahota during an attempted robbery gone awry in January. Deputy Jonathan Feller, who was among three deputies who shot Peterson, was also the deputy who shot Sahota.
“Clark County has a policy, custom, and established practice of failing to supervise and train its officers to use deadly force only as a last resort,” the complaint said.
Family members share those concerns, as they stated their concerns again and again at a press conference Thursday. Zawacky said the multiple shootings in the year since Donald’s resurface those feelings.
“The community’s tired. They’re angry,” Zawacky said. “Something’s got to change. You can train, but you’ve got to get that mindset. You’ve got to get some better vetting. Period. And that’s what I would hope would come out of all of this — for everybody.”
The lawsuit, according to attorney Mark Lindquist, looks to probe into the department’s culture and handbooks. In listing unnamed defendants, he said he expects interviews and depositions to find root causes.
“We’re going to be looking very specifically into the failings of Clark County when it comes to their training,” said Lindquist, a former county prosecutor. He argued Donald’s case also highlights that deputies are ill-equipped for dealing with people with behavioral health struggles. Donald was on the autism spectrum.
“If the deputies were better trained, they might not have immediately escalated to physical force,” Lindquist said.
The complaint contends the initial traffic stop of Donald was illegal. Around 7:40 p.m., radio chatter discussed “suspicious activity” near a known “drug house.” Boyle, who dispatched there, pulled over an older Mercedes that looked “similar” to cars described to be near the house but pulled the car over for a broken taillight.
“An officer who lacks probable cause to pull over a citizen for suspicion of drug use cannot lawfully use defective equipment as a ‘pretext’ for stopping the citizen,” the suit reads.
During the stop, the car remained turned on — a fact the complaint describes as neglect by Boyle.
When Boyle returned to his car with Donald’s identification in hand, Troupe, who had one and a half years of law enforcement experience at the time, arrived to the scene on Donald’s passenger side. Troupe noticed what she described as a “ball-handled” sharp object in the car.
Representatives with the Vancouver Police Department, which led the investigation into the shooting, told OPB on Feb. 26 that investigators believed the object was a screwdriver.
Troupe reportedly told Donald to show his hands but he “did not comply,” she later told investigators. Donald then pulled a cell phone and a pair of metal pliers from his back pockets, investigators said.
“I said, ‘Really? I just told you to show me your hands. Keep your hands out,’” Troupe later told investigators. She said she told Donald to “chill out,” and he said the same back to her.
Once Boyle returned and heard the exchange, he reportedly threatened to use a police dog on Donald. He eventually punched Donald in the nose, according to records, and Troupe then attempted a “pain compliance” technique by grabbing Donald’s jaw.
“Mr. Donald does not fight back, but continues to resist,” the complaint reads. “(Another deputy) is standing by and recalls seeing Mr. Donald ‘using his feet to kick, um, or push Deputy Boyle away from him.’”
During the scuffle, Donald’s engine reportedly began to rev. Boyle later told investigators that Donald grabbed him by the ballistics vest and pulled him toward the car. The gear shift “somehow” knocks into drive, the complaint said, and the car began to roll forward.
“Deputy Boyle draws his service weapon with his left hand and fires at Mr. Donald,” the complaint said. The first shot missed, the complaint said, but the second struck Donald in the head.
No footage exists from the encounter. Clark County deputies are not equipped with body cameras. Neighbors to the scene told OPB they did not hear anything until the car lurched forward and struck a nearby fence.