The Vancouver, Washington, police officer who fatally shot a 16-year-old Micronesian boy last February has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
The Clark County, Washington, prosecuting attorney’s office said Officer Roger Evans “acted lawfully” when he shot Clayton Joseph outside an apartment complex on the night of Feb. 19, 2019.
The official report said Joseph's older brother, S.mate, 22, was fighting with his girlfriend, Neilyen, in a parking lot of the Sterling Heights apartment complex in Vancouver.
Witnesses said Clayton Joseph was there, too, and was swinging a knife, attempting to stab people and threatening them if they called the police. Witness Julio Garcia Ruiz “stated he believed Clayton was trying to stab him and that he had to jump back quickly to avoid being stabbed.” Ruiz’s son said he too had to move quickly to avoid Clayton Joseph’s knife.
According to the prosecuting attorney’s six-page summary, Evans responded to the “hectic scene” at the apartment complex after three other officers had arrived. The report says the three other officers were “fully focused on their contact with S.mate as Officer Evans arrived on the scene.”
According to Evans’ statement to investigators, he saw “Clayton Joseph was walking in a determined manner toward the other officers.” At first, he couldn’t see if the 16-year-old had a knife, but Evans got out of his patrol car yelling “Police. Stop. Show me your hands.” Soon after, when Evans and Joseph were “from 12-to-15 feet apart,” Evans saw the knife in the teen’s hands, and ordered him to drop it, the report said.
“Officer Evans stated Clayton did not drop the knife,” the report said. Instead, the teenager “began to advance toward with the knife raised,” and Evans shot him.
In an interview transcript obtained by OPB, Evans told investigators he believed he was in a life-threatening situation and that his only reasonable option was to fire his weapon. “I feel like I was in a fight for my life. And if I didn’t act immediately, to stop the threat, I’d be killed or injured,” Evans said.
The autopsy indicated that Clayton Joseph died from “a single gunshot wound to his chest.” He had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of his death.
The Clark County prosecutor’s report includes information about an incident five months earlier, in October 2018, when Clayton Joseph approached two other residents of the Sterling Heights apartments, “without provocation, cursed at them, and swung a knife at [one of them] two times.”
Later that same day, Joseph assaulted a 14-year-old boy at Ellsworth Elementary School and threatened him with a knife. The report said that Joseph was “highly intoxicated,” “upset” and “indicated to the police that he was suicidal.” Joseph was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon when Evans shot him.
The report concludes that “all evidence in this case” led to the conclusion that Evans “acted both subjectively and objectively in good faith,” though it calls Clayton Joseph’s death “tragic.”
Representatives of the family said they are reviewing their legal options with their attorneys.
"The family just wants to ensure that they’re given a fair chance at justice," said Joe Enlet, Clayton Joseph’s uncle and the Consul General for the Federated States of Micronesia based in Portland.
Clayton Joseph’s death was one of four police shootings in Vancouver in a span of five weeks earlier this year. In three of them, the victim died.