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Vancouver man sues city, officers for racial discrimination

A 27-year-old Vancouver man is suing the city and two local police officers for alleged illegal entry into his home and racial discrimination.

Jabo Johnigan, a Black computer software engineer with no criminal record, is suing the city and two white officers for $1 million in damages.

Attorney Angus Lee wrote in the lawsuit that Vancouver police Officers Christopher Bohatch and Scotland Hammond violated Johnigan’s civil rights by “barging into his home at night without a warrant or any other lawful authority, and for then searching his home, seizing him, and interrogating him.”

The lawsuit also names Chief James McElvain as a defendant, as he was the officers’ commander responsible for their training and supervision.

Among its allegations, the lawsuit claims that the officers’ decision to search Johnigan’s residence and keep him there were motivated in part or in total by race.

The incident in question happened March 13, 2019. The short probable cause statement filed with the Clark County District Court case says the officers responded to Johnigan’s apartment in Vancouver’s Bagley Downs neighborhood. Israel Young — who according to the lawsuit was not in a relationship with Johnigan at the time, but who has a child with him, the police report noted — was upset with Johnigan, according to the affidavit.

Young threatened to turn off the TV, which Johnigan was using to play video games. She turned off the TV several times, and then Johnigan punched a hole in the television, according to the affidavit.

Police arrested Johnigan on suspicion of domestic violence-related, third-degree malicious mischief.

Seven months later, Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Kenneth Wallace filed and was granted a motion to dismiss the case, without prejudice, because the prosecution “cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The lawsuit expands on the officers’ account, alleging that Young told them the home was not her place of residence, so she could not give them permission to enter. She also told them she was not on the lease and did not have a key.

Johnigan claims he told the officers that he had asked Young to leave his apartment, and she did not live there. The officers are alleged to have asked Johnigan to step outside and speak, but he responded that he did not wish to, according to the lawsuit.

One of the officers then entered the apartment, without permission or a warrant, according to the lawsuit.

“Officer Bohatch stood in the doorway of Mr. Johnigan’s bedroom, where Mr. Johnigan was sitting on his bed and his son was sleeping. … Mr. Johnigan was compelled to stay in his room until the officer finished interrogating him. … Officer Bohatch did not provide Miranda warnings to Mr. Johnigan at any point prior to, or during, the interrogation,” the lawsuit says.

Lee argues that Johnigan was jailed for essentially breaking the television in his own home. He was forced to hire an attorney and pay legal fees; as the case was pending, he had difficulty sleeping and eating, and suffered from anxiety and depression, the lawsuit says.

“Prior to the actions of these officers, Mr. Johnigan had faith in law enforcement and felt he could safely reside anywhere in the (U.S.). That total faith is no more,” the lawsuit says.

The case is slowly moving forward in the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington. The parties are scheduled to meet in September for a hearing on the disclosure of evidence. The officers’ response to the complaint is due in August, said Assistant City Attorney Daniel G. Lloyd. The timeline for the city and McElvain to reply hasn’t commenced.

The officers acted consistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment, Lloyd said in an email. They responded to a domestic violence 911 call that specifically identified Johnigan as the perpetrator who destroyed property belonging to another person, he said.

“When Officers Bohatch and Hammond arrived, this 911 caller gave the officers consent to enter, so they could view a video she had taken of the crime. … While there was no warrant, there was permission to enter,” Lloyd said.

Upon arrival, the officers confirmed that the TV was damaged, and when the victim showed the officers a video of the incident, Johnigan was seen punching and damaging the television, Lloyd said. Johnigan did not deny damaging the television, and when the officers were asked to leave, they left, he said.

Both officers were subjects of an internal investigation and were exonerated, according to the city attorney.

“The allegation that race played a role in any way in this incident is absolutely and categorically false. Mr. Johnigan was identified by name in the 911 call, was seen in a video committing the crime, and did not deny committing the crime. We will defend this lawsuit aggressively and vigorously,” Lloyd said.


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