A panel of Washington prosecutors tasked with reviewing a chaotic chain of events that led a Clark County deputy to shoot and kill an off-duty Vancouver Police Department officer could not agree on whether the deputy acted reasonably when he pulled the trigger.
The five-person panel wrote that they were “unable to reach consensus” when Deputy John Feller opened fire Jan. 29, 2022 on a figure he believed to be an armed robbery suspect, but in fact turned out to be off-duty officer Donald Sahota.
“Some believed that considering the totality of the circumstances known to him, Feller should have taken the time to verify the identity of his target,” the panel wrote in their findings. Some, however, said opening fire “was not unreasonable.”
The panel ultimately did not make any recommendations on whether Feller should face criminal charges. Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said his office could take up to two weeks to decide whether to file charges.
“The next step we are taking in this office is meeting to discuss the advisory opinion, and take an additional last look at the evidence in the case before this office makes a final decision,” Golik said.
If Feller faces criminal charges, he would be a rare case among law enforcement officers in Washington state. However, it is also rare for such advisory opinions to not declare in writing that they believed the law enforcement officer was justified in shooting.
The Jan. 29 shooting started with an armed robbery near Vancouver that turned into a police chase through Clark County and culminated in gunfire at Sahota’s doorstep.
That night last January, Julio Cesar Segura, 20 years old at the time, robbed a convenience store at gunpoint, according to court records. He then fled to a rural neighborhood on a heavily wooded and private road near Battle Ground. He knocked on a door that ended up being Sahota’s.
Sahota attempted to apprehend Segura in the driveway, according to court records. The two fought over a handgun. Ultimately, Segura stabbed the off-duty police officer three times before running into the house.
Sahota, in aerial footage capturing the incident, picked up the handgun and ran toward his home as Feller arrived in his SUV.
Then Feller fired.
He later told investigators he believed he was firing at the armed robbery suspect.
A Clark County Medical Examiner concluded that gunfire killed the 52-year-old Sahota.
In their 11-page letter, the prosecutors did not identify who arrived at which legal conclusions. The panel was comprised of elected prosecutors from Pend Oreille, Lewis, Island, Garfield and Clallam counties.
However, the letter noted multiple times the panel’s difficulty in untangling the spotty details. They wrote that it wasn’t clear deadly force was necessary — even if Feller had shot the correct person.
“The ... panel reviewing this case was unable to reach consensus on whether, had his mistaken belief been correct, Feller would have been justified in shooting Segura at the front door,” the panel wrote.
Besides Feller, two other law enforcement officers mistook Sahota for the suspect. Battle Ground Police Officer Martinez told investigators he thought Feller shot the suspect, and Battle Ground Police Officer Nic Siem had aimed his own rifle at Sahota, he told investigators.
The shooting was the second time Feller fatally shot someone. In October 2020, he was one of three Clark County deputies who fired at Kevin Peterson Jr. during an attempted drug sting. Feller was the only deputy in that case who fired who was not previously part of the drug sting.
Feller joined the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in 2018. Following the most recent shooting, Feller returned to work in July 2022.
In a statement Wednesday, the sheriff’s office wrote that it continues to “provide support to Deputy Feller through this review process.”