A coalition of civil rights groups in Southwest Washington is calling for more citizen-led oversight of the Vancouver Police Department after multiple officers shot and killed a man believed to be unhoused.
The calls come as the Clark County prosecutor's office continues to probe the fatal shooting of 50-year-old William Abbe and more details become public. Vancouver police officers shot and killed Abbe on April 28.
The coalition penned a letter Tuesday saying they had no confidence in a county-led probe. They demanded Vancouver City Council and top administrators ensure officers are held responsible.
“The repeated acts of unnecessarily deadly Vancouver police violence that consistently go exonerated by the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office gives us no faith or confidence in the capacity for a thorough, objective investigation by local law enforcement or other criminal justice parties in Clark County or the greater Southwest Washington region,” the group wrote.
Unlike many cities, Vancouver does not have a citizen-led review board of its police.
The letter includes signatures from local representatives of civil rights groups like the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens. It also included the family and friends of Carlos Hunter, a 43-year-old Black man killed by two officers in March 2019.
“This homicide marks the latest in a series of inexcusable incidents of deadly Vancouver police actions — largely involving vulnerable civilian populations such as those who are Black, experiencing homelessness, mentally ill, or immigrant,” the group wrote.
Vancouver officials wouldn’t have authority to prosecute crimes under Washington law. But city officials can review the city’s police department and officers.
Specifically, the letter wants the city to become more involved in the investigation of Abbe’s death.
Three officers shot and killed Abbe, which set in motion an investigation headed by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Camas and Battle Ground.
The investigation wrapped May 28 and, since then, has been in the hands of the Clark County prosecutor’s office. It’s unclear when the office will decide whether or not Vancouver police acted lawfully.
Even with the independent investigative team in place, NAACP Vancouver chapter President Bridgette Fahnbullah said she felt there were conflicts of interest and wanted more oversight.
“We want the city to be held accountable and to really seek justice for people, especially for African Americans, who are killed with lethal force,” she said.
Multiple police officers confronted Abbe on the morning of April 28 near a strip mall in central Vancouver after he reportedly used a rod to strike another man near a bus stop.
According to recently released investigative documents by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Abbe had a shopping cart full of objects, including a rock and other rods, which he threw at Vancouver police officers responding to the 911 call.
A 10-minute confrontation ensued with more officers arriving, according to the documents. They fired a taser at him, which officers described as “ineffective.” The report said they also called for a canine unit and less lethal devices.
According to the report, officers say Abbe made a “deliberate charge” at a sergeant and three of the responding officers shot him. He ultimately died at a hospital.
Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said he’s confident in his office’s past rulings of police shootings and invited the public to review any of the available documents.
“It’s a function we take very seriously in our office, and we’re very thorough and strive for complete transparency in that process,” he said.
Still, Golik said he agreed that state policies should have police shootings reviewed by an outside prosecutor.
“That part of the system does not give confidence that there is true independence, if you have the local prosecutor on these cases doing that work,” he said. “It’s appropriate to take another look at that.”