VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — A Vancouver police officer is facing fourth-degree assault charges after a use of force incident in a Walmart parking lot in May during which a video caught the officer threatening to use a Taser against a suspect’s genitals, authorities announced Thursday.
Vancouver police say that the officer, identified as Andrea Mendoza, who has been with the department for seven years, was placed on administrative leave three days after the incident.
The incident was captured on the officers’ body cameras, as well as security footage from Wal-Mart’s camera and can be viewed here. The video is graphic in nature and viewer discretion is advised.
“The actions of the officer who deployed the Taser in the video are disturbing,” said Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori. “I want to emphasize to the community that my expectation is that at all times our personnel serve the public with professionalism, compassion and respect. Our department process includes supervisor review of all use of force incidents. Upon review of this incident, the involved officer was placed on administrative leave, an internal investigation was opened, and the case was referred to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office for independent investigation.”
According to authorities, officers responded to a call from a Walmart loss prevention employee on May 21, who said that they saw two individuals, a man named Elijah Jaden Guffey-Prejean and an unidentified woman, steal merchandise and leave the store.
The two suspects were contacted by a pair of officers, who told them they were not free to leave, police said. One of the officers grabbed Guffey-Prejean’s arm after he took multiple steps away, while the woman ran away and wasn’t found, police said.
“The two VPD officers were able to get the male to the ground. However, before he could be handcuffed, he jumped up, punched one of the officers in the face and kicked the other officer in the chest. Both officers began struggling with him to gain control. One of the officers deployed a Taser to the subject’s back to gain compliance, which was not effective enough to get him handcuffed. During the struggle, one of the officers exposed the subject’s genital area and threatened to activate the Taser if he did not stop resisting,” Vancouver police said in a press release.
In the body cam video, Guffey-Prejean can be heard saying, “Did you just punch me in the b—-?” Mendoza can also be heard in the video threatening to use a Taser on his genitals.
Police said Guffey-Prejean eventually complied and was handcuffed. As more responders arrived, he can be heard asking the officers to cover up his genitals, which investigators say were revealed by Mendoza and left exposed for nearly a minute during his arrest. He was then taken to the hospital.
Court documents show Guffey-Prejean was found with $103 worth of stolen merchandise during the arrest and was later booked in the Clark County Jail for third-degree theft as well as two counts of third-degree assault — for injuring both officers.
The incident reports and body cam footage was later filed by the responding officers, according to authorities.
“All use of force incidents are reviewed by a supervisor. Based on the supervisor’s review, this incident was brought to the attention of the office of the chief on May 24 and the officer who deployed the Taser was immediately placed on administrative leave. The case was referred to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office on May 24 for independent investigation. Additionally, an internal VPD investigation was also opened,” Vancouver police said.
According to authorities, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office investigation was completed on July 20 and then forwarded to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review. Mendoza was officially charged with fourth-degree assault five days later.
A statement from the Vancouver Police Officer’s Guild issued Thursday night said, in part:
“Officer Andrea Mendoza is a decorated member of the Vancouver Police Department and a veteran of our Armed Forces. She has spent years selflessly protecting our country and our city.
Officer Mendoza is also a mother of two young children and a member of our diverse Hispanic community. Her dedication to our city is overshadowed only by her love for her family and community…
… We ask much of our police officers. And our officers respond with utmost professionalism in often violent interactions with criminals. No officer should fear being charged with a crime for faithfully doing their job. Yet that is the new norm that the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has now announced with this tortured, baseless criminal charge against Officer Mendoza.
We are confident that after all the facts are presented to a jury, Officer Mendoza will be exonerated.”
Stay with KOIN 6 News as this story develops.