The family of William Abbe, a man experiencing homelessness who was shot and killed by the Vancouver Police Department in April 2020, will receive a $725,000 settlement from the city.
Vancouver City Council on Monday unanimously approved the payment to Abbe’s estate. The estate claimed that Abbe was gripped by a mental health crisis when three officers shot him while responding to an assault.
The settlement does not admit any wrongdoing by officers, a city staff report stated. An independent review found the officers acted legally in the encounter. Vancouver councilors on Monday didn’t comment when passing the settlement.
Angus Lee, the attorney representing Abbe’s family, told OPB neither he nor his client can comment on the case beyond issuing a prepared statement.
“A human life was lost and everyone involved in this case on both sides recognizes the significance of that loss,” the statement read. “Every human life is important and has dignity. Both parties agree the settlement is in the best interest for all involved.”
The settlement comes after months of behind-the-scenes discussions with the estate, and it spares the city from potentially entering a courtroom to litigate how police handled the encounter with Abbe. Bystanders created a video recording of the encounter, which quickly drew outrage from local civil rights groups.
Abbe, 50, died April 28, 2020, after being shot multiple times by Vancouver Sgt. Jay Alie and officers Sammy Abdala and Sean Suarez.
That morning, the trio sought to question Abbe for reportedly beating another man unconscious with an iron rod. They encountered Abbe at a strip mall parking lot near the intersection of Northeast Stapleton Road and Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard.
In cellphone footage captured by a bystander, three more officers joined the encounter. Five officers in the video can be seen with weapons drawn as Abbe begins to pace back and forth.
According to family members, Abbe was diagnosed with schizophrenia as an adult. He worked as a handyman, but regularly struggled to maintain a job. Family members told OPB that it wasn’t uncommon for Abbe to pace during arguments.
One officer fired a Taser at Abbe but effectively missed, records show. Officers had also requested a weapon capable firing a “less lethal” 40 millimeter projectile, which was on its way when the shooting happened.
Ultimately, as the cellphone footage captured, Abbe walked toward Alie. In quick succession, Alie unholstered his gun, aimed it Abbe and shot him in the chest. Abbe then turned the other direction. Alie, the footage shows, then shot Abbe in the back. While Abbe fell, Suarez and Abdala also fired.
Abbe was shot five times, according to court filings. The bullets struck him once in the chest, leg, abdomen and twice in the back.
Five months after the shooting, the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office declared the shooting justified.
However, the shooting’s investigation – on which the Thurston County prosecutors relied for their review – has been the subject of some controversy. Under current Washington state law, deadly uses of force trigger independent investigative teams which must include two uninvolved citizens. This team did not.
Investigators at the time told The Columbian newspaper that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic hampered attempts to build a roster of uninvolved citizens to participate in investigations.
Abbe’s daughter, according to a city staff report, initially sought $5 million for her father’s death when she filed a suit in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington on Oct. 26, 2021. The federal court stipulated the two sides meet with a mediator, which they did Sept. 13, 2022.
In the staff report, city attorneys noted the settlement saves the city from going to trial. City attorneys also noted that neither side wanted to take the case to trial.
“Both the city and (Abbe’s estate) agreed that juries can reach different conclusions based on the same evidence,” the staff report read.
City attorneys later noted that the payment is “less than 20 percent of the original amount claimed ... and is significantly less than what many other jurisdictions have paid to settle similar claims.”