The family of a Vancouver, Washington, man has filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging Clark County sheriff’s deputies illegally stopped Jenoah Donald and shot him to death in February 2020 as part of a string of unnecessary police killings in which officers escalated routine stops into deadly confrontations.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court by Sue Zawacky, Donald’s mother, and names as defendants the county, Sheriff Chuck Atkins, deputies Sean Boyle and Holly Troupe, and several not-yet-identified sheriff’s employees allegedly involved in the death or Sheriff’s Office training.
It claims wrongful death and violations of Donald’s civil rights, including protections against illegal search and seizure.
A letter issued in July by a panel of five Washington county prosecutors who reviewed the shooting of Donald found the officers acted in “good faith” and would not face criminal charges.
A phone message seeking comment from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office was not immediately returned Thursday.
The lawsuit alleges that Donald, a 30-year-old Black man, was shot by Boyle the night of Feb. 4, 2021, and links the shooting to the death three months earlier of another Black man, 21-year-old Kevin Peterson Jr., who was killed Oct. 29, 2020, by deputies as he fled from a drug sting. Police initially said Peterson fired a gun at officers, but later retracted that statement.
One of the officers who fired at Peterson, Jonathan Feller, mistakenly shot and killed an off-duty Vancouver police officer on Jan. 29 while pursuing a robbery suspect.
The lawsuit alleges all of these instances are the result of inadequate training within the Sheriff’s Office, claiming “Clark County has a policy, custom and established practice of failing to supervise and train its officers to use deadly force only as a last resort.”
Last November, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 20 other organizations petitioned the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division seeking an investigation into the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Vancouver Police Department, alleging “a pattern of deadly force, disparate policing, and favoritism toward known white supremacist extremist groups.”
The civil rights division has acknowledged the letter but has not responded to the request.
According to the lawsuit, Donald — a father of three and an avid mechanic — was pulled over in January for not having a trip permit while driving an unlicensed older Mercedes-Benz sedan he was in the process of restoring.
He was driving the same vehicle the night of Feb. 4, with a valid trip permit, when he was pulled over by Deputy Sean Boyle, who was responding to a report of “suspicious activity” at an alleged drug house.
According to the lawsuit, Boyle spotted Donald’s car and claimed the Mercedes “may have been ‘similar'” to cars described in the drug-house call. Noticing the vehicle had a taillight burned out, the lawsuit alleges Boyle used this as a “pretext” to stop Donald’s car.
Joining the deputy was Troupe, a rookie who had been out of training just a few weeks. Troupe, according to the lawsuit, described the interior of Donald’s car as “very chaotic and, in an interview, reportedly said: ‘At no point in time did I think that he wasn’t getting ready to hurt me in some way.'”
She described seeing a “metal spike” in the car — which turned out to be a standard screwdriver — and she demanded he show his hands, according to the pleadings. At that point, Boyle ordered Donald out of the car. When he didn’t immediately comply, the lawsuit said, the deputies began to try to pull him out of the car.
According to the lawsuit, Donald did not actively resist the officers, but he did not comply with their orders. At some point in the struggle, the pleadings claim, the car was placed in gear and began to roll. Boyle then drew his handgun and fired two shots — the first struck a pillar between the front and back seats. The second struck Donald in the head.
Boyle did not make a statement until five days later, according to the lawsuit; when accompanied by his police guild lawyer, he said he feared he was going to be dragged when the car began moving because Donald had ahold of his vest. The lawsuit alleges that’s implausible, since forensic evidence suggests he was standing outside of the car when the shots were fired.
Moreover, the pleadings allege that neither Troupe nor another deputy on the scene saw Donald grabbing Boyle’s vest.
Donald lived for seven days before he died from the head wound, according to the lawsuit.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated that Jonathan Feller was pursuing a bank-robbery suspect when he mistakenly shot and killed an off-duty officer. The suspect was accused of robbing a gas-station convenience store.