Clark County will cover the legal bill for its sheriff and two deputies who were named in a wrongful death lawsuit leveled by the family of Jenoah Donald, a Black man killed by a Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputy in 2021.
The Clark County Board of Councilors voted Wednesday to indemnify Sheriff Chuck Atkins and deputies Sean Boyle and Holly Troupe, meaning the county will cover potential damages the three face as a result of Donald’s death last year.
Donald, 30, died from a gunshot wound to the head during a traffic stop. The two deputies fought with Donald inside his car. As the car began to roll during the altercation, Boyle pulled out his gun and shot Donald, who died after a week on life support.
Donald’s family filed a wrongful death claim on Feb. 17, contending the deputies escalated the stop into the physical fight.
The question to indemnify — usually a straightforward process — led to some disagreement between councilors. Councilors Gary Medvigy, Karen Bowerman and Julie Olson voted yes, while Councilor Temple Lentz abstained.
Lentz said she and other elected officials needed more information before making a decision. She said she has read about 1,400 pages of investigative records, which she had to “press” for, but hasn’t received other documents that she said were important to the decision.
“I asked for the toxicology report and I haven’t received it. I asked for the medical examiner’s report and I haven’t received it. I also asked for the Clark County Sheriffs Office’s policies related to traffic stops and uses of force … yet I have received nothing,” Lentz said.
“Today I’m being asked to make an informed decision about a case of lethal use of force, the death of Jenoah Donald, without the information I need to do so,” she continued.
Medvigy responded that he felt Lentz’s comments overstepped. He argued the county had an obligation to defend employees whose job leads them into legal trouble, such as road maintenance crews getting into an automobile accident.
“As a county councilor, it’s really our duty. We don’t decide guilt or innocence, liability or not, whether it’s a controversial topic or not,” Medvigy told OPB in an interview after the meeting. “Whether it’s a public works driver, someone in public health — if we have an employee acting in the course of their duty, they have a right to be indemnified.”
Medvigy also stated it wasn’t Lentz’s job to probe the case. He said her comments in the meeting were “way out of line.”
“It really undermines our relationship with all employees,” Medvigy said.
At stake could be millions of taxpayer dollars. In its initial tort claim, the Donald estate said it sought $17 million in damages. Recent police killings in Washington state have often been settled out of court for between $3 million and $4 million.
Lentz said, in abstaining, she is advocating for more time to make an informed decision and for councilors to be wise in how they spend public money.
“I’m not trying to litigate the case, but I am elected by voters to make good choices on their behalf,” she said. “We protect employees who make more decisions or have a bad day. This particular case ended with the use of deadly force and should be examined more closely.”
None of the officers, nor the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, face any criminal repercussions. In July, a panel of Washington prosecutors deemed the shooting justified.
Medvigy said the county is “very far” from discussing whether to settle the Donald lawsuit or proceed to court.
Reached for a comment, an attorney representing the family said a settlement is on the table.
“I’m absolutely confident in our case, but open to a fair and just resolution short of trial,” said Mark Lindquist, of the Tacoma-based Herrmann Law Group.