PASCO — Detectives investigating the officer-involved shooting of a Pasco teen say he might still be alive if it weren’t for his cousin allegedly interfering in the arrest.
Martin Mendoza, 24, claims he was trying to protect his younger cousin and prevent the 18-year-old from going back to jail.
But when Mendoza grabbed Officer Jason Griffin by his bulletproof vest and the two started fighting, his cousin was able to break free from two other Pasco officers and stab them with a double-edged knife, newly released court documents show.
Officer Ben Boykin — now “bleeding profusely” from his right arm — responded with two gunshots at Alejandro Betancourt-Mendoza, documents state.
Those shots, which killed the 18-year-old, immediately stopped the assault, according to Richland police Detective Sgt. Drew Florence.
Florence is a member of the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit team reviewing the Pasco police response on Dec. 14 that led to the shooting by Boykin.
The team is made up of specially trained detectives from other regional law-enforcement agencies.
Tuesday, the unit arrested Mendoza for his alleged involvement in what started with a theft call and ended in the wounding of officers Boykin and Kierra Peoples and the death of Betancourt-Mendoza.
“It is clear based upon the investigation conducted to this date that had Mr. Martin not intervened and joined in felonious assaults upon the officers, Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza would not have been physically able to prevent the three officers from taking him into custody,” Florence wrote in court documents. “The officers would not have been stabbed, and Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza would likely not have been shot.”
Mendoza, of Pasco, appeared Thursday in Franklin County Superior Court and was ordered held on $1 million bail.
He was charged with two counts of first-degree assault and one count of third-degree assault, all felonies.
Prosecutors, in filing charges of first-degree assault, say that either Mendoza or an accomplice — his cousin — intended to inflict great bodily harm by stabbing Boykin and Peoples, knowing that they were police officers performing their lawful duties.
The third-degree assault charge is for the struggle with Griffin.
Betancourt-Mendoza had a criminal history that included threatening another cousin with a knife last summer.
He appeared in both Juvenile Court and Superior Court three weeks before his death, and was sentenced to jail in both cases with credit for already doing the time.
Mendoza, later interviewed about the deadly confrontation, said his cousin “always” carried a knife and had also tried to stab him in the past.
He claimed that Betancourt-Mendoza told him previously that “if the police came to see (Betancourt-Mendoza), they had better kill him because he did not want to go back to jail.”
Records show Betancourt-Mendoza lived in the home where Pasco police responded Dec. 14 for a theft report.
A girl called 911 at 8:09 p.m. and said her uncle, Betancourt-Mendoza, was stealing cellphones out of the house.
Boykin, Peoples and Griffin arrived about 8:15 p.m. and were given permission by a female resident to come into the house.
Florence said the information in his probable-cause affidavit was based on a review of the crime scene, footage from the officers’ body cameras, and interviews with witnesses and the involved officers.
Police were inside when Betancourt-Mendoza walked through an outside door into the dining room. He was identified by relatives as the theft suspect.
Officers were talking with the teen when he placed his hand near his right pocket, where a black, folding tactical knife was clipped.
They quickly moved to prevent him from getting the weapon and tried to remove it from the teen’s pocket, but Betancourt-Mendoza pulled away and resisted their attempts, court documents said.
The officers and Betancourt-Mendoza went to the ground, where police asked the suspect why he was trying to reach for a knife.
They reported having “complete control” of him and going to place him in handcuffs when “chaos erupts,” documents said.
Mendoza, who had been in a back bedroom, allegedly came charging into the living room to intervene in his cousin’s arrest. Family members and his girlfriend tried to block Mendoza, putting their hands on his chest, but he pushed by, court documents said.
Griffin said he heard yelling coming from down the hall and saw Mendoza heading toward them before the assault suspect grabbed the officer by the vest.
Mendoza allegedly said, “What’s you trying to do boy?” and “You think you got a badge” as he went for Griffin.
Griffin, who had been helping to hold down Betancourt-Mendoza, said he broke off to handle Mendoza and ended up pinning him against a couch. He was trying to get Mendoza’s arms secured when he heard two gunshots close by, documents said.
The officer looked over and saw his two colleagues both had blood on them.
Mendoza later admitted he was trying to push the officer off him when he heard the gunshots, followed by officers saying they had been stabbed.
Police say Betancourt-Mendoza freed himself from Boykin and Peoples, grabbed the knife in his pocket and opened it. He then swung it toward the officers, hitting Boykin in the right arm and Peoples twice on the face.
Body-camera footage reportedly shows Boykin had just been stabbed, and Betancourt-Mendoza was in the process of assaulting Peoples, when Boykin fired his .45-caliber Glock twice at the teen’s torso.
Both officers were released from the hospital later that night. They’re now on paid administrative leave, along with Griffin, which is standard protocol after an officer-involved shooting.
Boykin and Peoples later told detectives that the only reason they could not go through with the arrest of Betancourt-Mendoza is because of his cousin’s assault on Griffin and intent to involve himself in the situation, according to court documents.
“The situation is relatively calm and controlled with the officers talking with Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza just prior to Martin running into the room,” documents said, referencing body-camera footage.