At a Sunday night vigil for Carlos Hunter, about 100 people gathered along a stretch of sidewalk in Hazel Dell, just outside Vancouver, Washington.
Some brought flowers. Others tied balloons or left written messages along the chain link fence on NE 78th Street. Many wore T-shirts or sweaters with photos of Hunter printed on them.
“He was in my life a long time, long time and we share a lot of great things,” said Michele Thompson, 39, a longtime former partner of Hunter’s, as she helped their 7-year-old son Gabrial hang a poster covered with photos of him and his father. “I’ll be honored to carry on and make sure he always remembers his dad.”
Hunter, who was African American, was killed March 7 by two Vancouver police officers after a traffic stop that law enforcement said was part of a drug trafficking investigation. A statement from the Vancouver Police Department identified Hunter as a known gang member and said he was uncooperative and armed with a handgun.
Family members disagree, saying Hunter had not been affiliated with any gangs for years. Hunter’s criminal record includes burglary and assault charges, according to The Columbian, but his last felony conviction was 18 years ago.
“That’s a shame to be judged by your past, and not by your present,” said Hunter’s sister, Pam Hunter, who was the first person to arrive on the scene after her brother was shot. “Apparently he was a soldier who got taken out by an army that feared him.”
Others spoke of Hunter as a family man, with five kids and a sixth on the way. People who knew him, described Hunter as treating them like family, too.
“He was like my brother,” said Vancouver resident Jerry Cunningham, who said the news of Hunter’s death came the day before his birthday. “We need to tell people what happened here. Let them know how it hurts. Let them know it can be their neighbor.”
Hunter’s death marks the latest in a string of recent officer-involved shootings by the Vancouver Police Department. Four shootings have resulted in three deaths in the past month. On Feb. 5, a police chase crossed into Portland and resulted in a shootout that shut down Interstate 84.
On Feb. 19, officers responding to a domestic disturbance call shot and killed 16-year-old Clayton Joseph after he allegedly brandished a knife.
A week later, 29-year-old Michael Eugene Pierce, who family members have said was homeless and suffering from mental illness, was killed in downtown Vancouver after waving and pointing replica guns.
On Monday, the Vancouver Police Department identified the officers involved as Detectives Dennis Devlin and Colton Price. Devlin has been with the department since 2004, and Price joined in 2012. Both officers are on leave, and an investigation by the Regional Major Crimes Team is underway.
“Three fatalities in less than a month. Vancouver, is this who you are?” asked Teressa Raiford, a community organizer with Don’t Shoot Portland and mayoral candidate in the city.
Raiford called on the community to demand justice and action from law enforcement and elected leaders.
“Right now, it’s Carlos Hunter, but tomorrow it’s going to be somebody else in this community,” she said. “Carlos Hunter mattered to us.”