An advocate for Vancouver’s homeless community said Friday that the people he works with are saddened but not surprised prosecutors found the fatal police shooting of William Abbe lawful.
“The most telling comments I’m hearing are the folks wondering how police can continue to do this. It’s difficult to help them through their grief, because I don’t have an answer,” said Adam Kravitz, homeless advocate and founder of Outsiders Inn.
Three police officers fatally shot Abbe on April 28 while responding to an assault between him and another man in central Vancouver. Court records show Abbe was homeless.
Following his death, a coalition of groups demanded oversight into the investigation. Video of the police shooting was widely shared online and led many people to question whether shooting Abbe was appropriate.
As a result, Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik opted to send the shooting review outside the county.
Thurston County Deputy Prosecutor Scott M. Jackson reviewed the shooting of Abbe and concluded that the three officers’ use of deadly force was legal and justified.
Local organizations say they are dismayed by the decision.
Kravitz said Abbe’s death was the second time a homeless person was crying out for help only to be killed. He was referring to a February 2019 incident when two Vancouver officers shot and killed Michael Eugene Pierce, a 29-year-old mentally ill homeless man brandishing realistic replica handguns. That police shooting was also found to be justified.
“Both of them were troubled. They wanted to die, and police obliged. It could have been handled differently,” Kravitz said.
What’s most disturbing to the homeless community is that police do not appear to be interested in reaching out to them following shootings, despite their grief, Kravitz said. There are people struggling over the death of Abbe, and still grieving over the death of Pierce, he said.
Following the shootings, the police department never expressed an understanding to the city’s homeless population that the events were traumatic, or pointed anyone to available counseling, Kravitz said.
“That would go a long way into repairing the relationship, but no one seems to care. We want to hear from them directly that they care about what happened, not simply that it was legal and carry on as usual,” Kravitz said.
Shareefah Hoover, chair of NAACP Vancouver’s legal redress committee, said that having the deadly incident reviewed outside of the immediate region was an important step in the right direction, but it wasn’t ideal.
“What more could be done? A state (attorney general) review of the case,” Hoover said. The state is currently reviewing the death of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma police custody earlier this year.
Sending reviews to an outside prosecutor is not a panacea, Hoover said. Residents have continuing concerns about the true independence and objectivity of reviews when law enforcement — including prosecutors — are essentially investigating themselves or each other, she said.
Golik said he is still of the opinion that the best process for police shooting reviews is for highly experienced and professional prosecutors to examine the investigative evidence, and the prosecutor doing that job should be “completely at arm’s length and independent.”
“That’s exactly what happened in this case, and I intend to continue with this process” of sending reviews to outside prosecutors, Golik said. “I’ll also continue to support a general move for this type of process statewide. I think it’s the best way to uphold communities’ confidence in use-of-force reviews.”
To circumvent concerns, Hoover said residents need a seat at the table in police contract negotiations, a civilian review board for police officer misconduct, a more formal method for community members to file complaints against officers and greater accountability of officers who behave unprofessionally on the job.
“It’s important to note that officer safety is important — no one wants to see anyone subjected to any level of bodily harm on the job. It’s also important that force be appropriate to the level of threat, that officers be versed in and exercise appropriate de-escalation practices, and that people in obvious mental health crisis get responded to by those best equipped to address their needs while reducing the risk of deadly violence and community trauma,” Hoover said.
Ed Hamilton Rosales, president of the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens, said he gleaned several things from Jackson’s review, including that the appropriate tools necessary to help the police do their job seem never to be available. Lower-caliber ammunition should have been available to harm but not kill Abbe, he said.
According to the use-of-force review, an officer and a sergeant who were involved in the confrontation that led to Abbe’s shooting told investigators that less-lethal rounds were requested to be brought to the scene because no one there had the equipment.
The review’s findings left Hamilton Rosales with more questions than answers, he said. He wondered when people outside law enforcement will be able to sit in judgment of “those who are constantly given waiver for taking lives,” and if the threshold for police shootings should continue to center around whether officers fear threat or harm to themselves and others.
Under state law, an officer may use deadly force to arrest or apprehend a person whom the officer reasonably believes has committed or tried to commit a felony. Officers must believe that its use was necessary to prevent serious physical harm or death to themselves and others.
“(We) will continue to press the city and county and state for more transparency, more effective standards and more power to participate in these decisions as we have the right to be the peers of these officers,” Hamilton Rosales said.