Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik has determined that a Vancouver police officer acted lawfully when he fatally shot 16-year-old Clayton Joseph while responding to a disturbance call in February.
Golik wrote in his report on police Cpl. Roger Evans’ use of deadly force that Evans clearly stated in an interview with detectives that the moment he fired his gun, he believed Joseph was a man who’d just threatened people with a knife, and he was about to be stabbed himself.
“The physical evidence in this case supports the facts as explained by Officer Evans,” Golik wrote.
“Although the loss of Clayton Joseph’s life was tragic, the conduct of Officer Evans was reasonable, justified and lawful in this case,” Golik concluded.
Evans shot Joseph, who was Micronesian, while responding to multiple 911 calls about a domestic violence disturbance and assault at an apartment complex in the Ellsworth Springs neighborhood Feb. 19.
According to the report, Joesph’s older brother, S. Mate Joseph, was involved in a verbal and physical altercation with his girlfriend at the Sterling Heights apartments, where the family lived after having moved from the Chuuk state of the Federated States of Micronesia. S. Mate Joseph was intoxicated and angry, the report states.
Clayton Joseph was also involved in the disturbance, which had spilled out into the parking lot of the apartments. Two residents, a father and son, witnessed what was happening and called police. In response, Joseph swung a knife at them, according to the report. The son told police he had to jump out of the way to avoid being stabbed.
“The scene at the Sterling Heights apartments was hectic … Police dispatch relayed information (from multiple 911 calls) as they were receiving it to responding officers,” Golik wrote.
Those officers were provided general physical descriptions of the people involved, according to Golik. They received information over the radio and via computer screens in their vehicles.
Three officers arrived at the apartments before Evans. They met S. Mate Joseph on Southeast 10th Street, which runs alongside the gated apartment complex, and ordered him to get on the ground. The officers “were fully focused” on S. Mate Joseph, according to the report.
As Evans approached the unfolding scene, he observed a male, later identified as Clayton Joseph, exit a gate from the apartment complex and begin walking on the sidewalk toward the officers, Golik wrote. The report notes that the officers had their backs to Clayton Joseph, and it was dark out, but Evans said he could see due to street lights. He believed the person who’d come out of the gate was the suspect dispatchers said was armed with a knife. The report also says Evans had no prior contact with Joseph.
Evans told detectives that Joseph was walking in a determined manner toward the officers. Evans got out of his vehicle, ordered Joseph to stop and drew his weapon, according to the report. Evans reported he decided to draw his gun because he believed Joseph was armed with a knife and had tried to assault witnesses, and because Joseph was approaching the other officers. The report says Joseph was about 30 feet away from the three officers.
Evans told Joseph to stop and put up his hands; Joseph stopped and faced Evans, who could not see the boy’s right hand, according to the report. When Joseph turned and revealed a knife, he was about 12 to 15 feet away from Evans, according to the officer’s account of the shooting. Evidence collected from the scene found the reported distance to be accurate, the report says.
Evans yelled “drop the knife,” and Joseph reportedly raised it above his head before stepping toward the officer “in a sudden aggressive manner,” the report says. Evans fired one round at Joseph, who immediately fell to the ground. An autopsy report indicated that Joseph died of a single gunshot wound to his upper left chest, and the wound was consistent with Evans’ version of events.
“Officer Evans was clear in his interview that he felt he had no other option than to fire his weapon because he believed he was about to be attacked by a male armed with a knife,” the report says.
The report describes the knife collected from the scene as a 4- to 5-inch steak knife.
Detectives asked Evans about the possibility of options other than the use of deadly force, such as deploying a stun gun. Evans said he thought it was appropriate to draw his gun based on the information he had at the time, and he had been trained to not use a stun gun against someone armed with a knife unless another officer is present to provide cover, because Tasers do not always work.
Evans also stated that backing up into the road was not an option, neither was turning and running away, and his bullet proof vest is not designed to prevent knife penetration.
The other officers present during the shooting told detectives they did not see Joseph approaching or know Evans had arrived at the scene. They said they heard someone yelling drop the knife several times before hearing a single gunshot. Evans said he yelled the command at least once, according to the report.
In the report, Golik included information about two prior assaults with a knife involving Joseph on Oct. 12, 2018. Joseph, reportedly unprovoked, approached two people at the Sterling Heights apartments and swung a knife at one of them before walking to nearby Ellsworth Elementary School where he punched and threatened a 14-year-old with a knife. Joseph was arrested on assault charges and was awaiting sentencing in juvenile court when he was killed.
“Clayton Joseph’s actions in the prior incident are very similar to the conduct he exhibited when he raised his knife in an apparent attempt to stab Officer Evans,” Golik wrote in his conclusion.
Vancouver police were involved in three fatal shootings that occurred between Feb. 5 and March 7. Two of the fatalities involved people of color and the third involved a homeless man previously diagnosed with schizophrenia. Calls among the community for answers and potential changes has resulted in the police department participating in a city-ordered independent assessment of its use-of-force protocols and training.
Vancouver police Lt. Kathy McNicholas said in an email that Police Chief James McElvain did not immediately have any comments about the findings of the report.
Family members of Clayton Joseph could not be reached for comment.