SIU Clears Pasco Officer in Deadly Force Use Incident From 2019

(Pasco, WA) — The Franklin County Special Investigations Unit says a case of deadly force by a Pasco Police Officer justified reasonable. An officer involved in the deadly shooting of an 18-year-old Pasco man from back in 2019 has been cleared after an extensive review. This involved the case of Alejandro Betancourt-Mendoza, who police say was stabbing Pasco officers with a knife as they were trying to take him into custody. One of the officers needing emergency surgery after the attack. The Franklin County prosecutor says the officer who opened fire was reasonable and justified in firing their weapon, killing Betancourt-Mendoza.

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Report from the Special Investigative Unit:

On December 14, 2019, at approximately 8:09PM, Pasco Officers responded to a 911 call from a 12 year old female reporting a theft. Pasco Officers responded to the area of the 2100 block of N. 18th Drive in Pasco. The caller reported her uncle was stealing cell phones out of the house and that he was still inside the residence. Pasco Officers Ben Boykin, Kierra Peoples and Jason Griffin responded to the call. All three officers were wearing AXON Body Worn Cameras (BWC) that captured portions of the incident. Two of the three officers’ cameras were active from the time they arrived until the time they left the residence.

Officer Peoples made contact with the 911 caller who was outside the residence waiting in a car with another adult inside. Officers Griffin and Boykin made contact at the front door of the residence. A female answered the door and allowed the officers to enter the residence. A short time later, a male can be seen entering the rear exterior door of the residence and walked into the dining room area. This male was identified as 18 year old Alejandro BetancourtMendoza. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was identified by other family members as the one involved with the prior cell phone theft. Within a few seconds of entering the residence, officers began speaking with Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza. During this conversation, Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza placed his hand at or near his right pocket. There was a black tactical folding style knife that was clipped to the pocket.

The BWC coverage showed officers move in quickly to prevent Mr. BetancourtMendoza from placing his hands near his pocket to retrieve the knife. Officer Griffin stated in his later interview that he was trying to secure the knife and was going to remove it from his pocket when Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza pulled away and began resisting their attempts. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza continued to pull away and resist officers’ attempts to secure the knife and eventually the officers and Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza went to the floor. The BWC captured officers asking Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza why he was reaching for the knife. The 3 officers were physically controlling various parts of Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s body and prevented him from moving or accessing the knife. Officers told Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza that he was under arrest and would be placed in handcuffs. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza continued to be verbally non-compliant. As the officers began handcuffing Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza, it became a chaotic situation as captured by the officers’ BWC.

Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s cousin, Martin Mendoza, charged at officers from down the hallway located to the south of the living room where officers were attempting to handcuff Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza. Other family members present in the home at the time believed Martin was trying to intervene in the arrest of Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza. Family members tried to physically restrain Martin from entering the living room. Martin pushed past family members and assaulted Officer Griffin from behind as Officer Griffin was assisting the other officers control Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza. In a later interview, Officer Griffin indicated he heard yelling coming from the hallway and saw Martin charging towards him. Officer Griffin had been holding Mr. BetancourtMendoza against the floor with Officers Boykin and Peoples. Officer Griffin released his hold of Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza to try and stop Martin from further assault. Officer Griffin stated Martin began fighting with him and was eventually able to pin Martin against the couch and the floor. Officer Griffin was struggling with Martin to secure his hands and after what Officer Griffin described to be 10 to 15 seconds pass, he heard two gunshots very close to him. He looked over and saw Officer Boykin bleeding profusely. Officer Boykin stated he had been stabbed. Officer Griffin also observed Officer Peoples with blood on her face not realizing she had been cut as well. When Martin was fighting with Officer Griffin, Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was able to free himself from Officer Peoples and Boykin and immediately armed himself with the knife observed earlier.

Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza started swinging the knife at the officers and stabbed Officer Boykin in the right arm. This injured Officer Boykin’s artery and an emergency tourniquet was applied to stop the bleeding. This injury required emergency surgery to repair the damage. Officer Peoples was also stabbed and slashed causing puncture wounds and cuts to her face. These facial wounds ultimately caused major swelling to her face and required stitches to close the wounds. An additional cut to the fabric of Officer Peoples’ uniform near her shoulder was observed but it did not injure her body. After Officer Boykin was stabbed and while Officer Peoples is observed on the BWC being assaulted by Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza, Officer Boykin fired two rounds from his .45 caliber Glock handgun which stopped the assault against Officer Peoples. Mr. BetancourtMendoza died at the scene as a result of the gunshot injuries sustained to his upper torso. Officer Peoples and Boykin stated during their voluntary interviews with SIU Investigators they had complete control of Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza and the only reason they were unable to safely effect the arrest was because Martin’s assault against Officer Griffin in an attempt to interfere with the involved officers. It is observed on the BWC coverage that the situation was under control and everything was stable until Martin ran into the room.

Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza is observed making stabbing motions towards Officer Peoples’ head and face as she tried to control Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza on the ground. This is after the struggle between Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza and Officer Boykin when Boykin was stabbed. After the shooting, Martin can be heard telling officers he was “sorry” for his actions. Martin indicated he was trying to protect his cousin (Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza). Family members can be heard asking Martin to stop after the shots were fired as he was still fighting with Officer Griffin. Martin eventually stops fighting and Officer Boykin can be heard on BWC telling Martin he will shoot him. Officer Boykin stated in his SIU interview that Martin was moving towards the knife that had fallen to the ground after the shooting. The statement about shooting Martin was made when Martin appeared to move toward the knife. This occurred as Officer Griffin was still struggling to control Martin and get him handcuffed. One of the family member witnesses was identified as Teresa De Jesus Betancourt, Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s older sister. Teresa indicated when Martin came down the hall and she attempted to stop him, knowing he was going to get himself involved. She used both hands and placed them on Martin’s chest in an attempt to stop him. He pushed by her and continued down the hall towards the living room where officers were attempting to control Mr. BetancourtMendoza. She saw Martin grab one of the officers (Griffin) and the ensuing fight.

Martin was later interviewed and after he was advised of his Constitutional Rights (Miranda Warnings), he said the officer told him to stop and grabbed him. Martin admitted he grabbed the officer and stated, “What’s you trying to do boy?” and “You think you got a badge.” Martin stated he was actively trying to push the officer off him when he heard gunshots. Martin admitted after hearing the gunshots he was still trying to push the officers off him and he heard officers say they were stabbed. Martin stated he physically pushed past his girlfriend and cousins to access the officers who he said were not allowing him to help his cousin. Martin admitted he believed his cousin was resisting the police and that he does not take “shit” from anyone. Martin stated he was aware that Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza “always” carries a knife and that Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza had tried to stab him in the past. Martin said he was aware that Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was involved recently using a knife in a confrontation with a neighbor. Martin described the knife Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza used and it was identical to the description of the knife used against officers. As the scene was processed by SIU, a knife was located in the locked and open position and had the appearance of blood or soft tissue on the blade. Martin told investigators that Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza had stated earlier that if the police came to see him (Mr. BetancourtMendoza) the police better kill him because he did not want to go back to jail.

SUMMARY OF INVESTIGATION AND KEY WITNESS ACCOUNTS

This was the first Officer Involved Shooting incident that was captured on Body Worn Camera (BWC) video. While the video is important for capturing audio and visual evidence, it isn’t perfect. In close quarter struggles, the video portion of the camera may be blocked or obscured to where it is difficult to see what is taking place. The position of the camera may not capture all available sight and sound as may be captured by other witnesses in close proximity to a particular event. There are situations where the camera may not have been activated on a given contact with an officer. Technology is changing as to how BWCs work including automated activation technology under certain scenarios. In this event, BWCs were active on two of the three involved officers at the time of the Officer involved use of force. Officers Peoples and Boykin’s cameras were activated and captured the initial contact with the home and the occupants inside. Officer Griffin’s BWC was manually activated immediately following the event as other officers arrived on scene. Officers Peoples and Boykin’s BWC captures what starts out to be a routine contact and investigation into a theft report. BWC captures officers talking with Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza in a calm manner until Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza reached for a knife located in his front pocket. Officers eventually take him to the floor, inform him that he is under arrest while all parties are generally talking in a calm manner. Chaos erupts when Martin pushes past family members in the hallway to involve himself into the situation.

The BWC is able to capture the knife and Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza swinging the knife at officers. This occurs very quickly and is difficult to capture during a first watch. SIU investigators were able to view the BWC coverage in slow motion and observe BWC evidence frame by frame during the investigation. Key Civilian Witnesses Teresa De Jesus Betancourt- Teresa is Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s sister and was inside the home when officers made contact at the front door. She did not know if the police saw something or whether her cousin, Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza, pulled something out of his pocket but heard officers say don’t do that and were yelling other things. She observed one officer reaching into Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s pocket. Martin came out of one of the rooms and ran toward the officers and tried to pull an officer off Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza. She stated Mr. BetancourtMendoza got up and stabbed an officer before being taken back toward the floor. She said an officer shot Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza twice. She saw a knife in Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s hand. She described the knife as being open and approximately 6 inches in length using a pen as a reference. She observed Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza making stabbing motions with the knife towards the officers. After shots were fired she saw an officer kick the knife away.

Prior to the shooting, she confronted Martin in the hallway and used both hands, palms out towards his chest in an attempt to prevent him from getting involved. Martin pushed by her. She stated she and her younger brother tried pulling Martin off the officers. Juvenile witness – This witness explained that Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza had taken BetancourtMendoza’s mother’s phone but had given it back just prior to police arrival. Mr. BetancourtMendoza had stolen the juvenile witness’ phone two weeks earlier and didn’t get it back. The juvenile witness heard an officer ask if he could pat Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza down and then saw Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza pull away from the officer. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza reached into his pocket while pulling away.

The witness saw the officer grab Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s right hand while it was still in the pocket and the officer told him not to do that. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza pulled the knife out of the pocket while on the ground with the officers and saw Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza use a flicking motion with his hand to extend the blade. The witness saw Martin come out of a back bedroom and described him being all mad because an officer had tackled Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza to the floor. Both this witness and Teresa knew Martin would do something stupid and tried to hold him back in the hallway. The witness saw a male officer divert attention to Martin and move to gain control of him. During this time, Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was able to stand up and began attacking the female officer (Peoples). The witness believed the 2nd male officer disengaged with Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza because Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was able to get back on his feet. The witness acknowledged they were focused on Martin in the hallway so they were not able to see exactly how Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza got to his feet. The witness stated a male officer and the female officer took Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza back to the floor and Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza continued to slash with the knife in the air while on his back. The witness stated the female officer had a knee on Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza when the other officer drew his gun. The witness stated the female officer was trying to stand up. The witness stated Officer Peoples was still holding him down but that Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s arm was free and was still slashing through the air with the knife. The witness stated the officer who fired two shots was not the same officer who initially took Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza to the floor. Involved Officer Statements Pasco Officer Boykin- Officer Boykin provided a voluntary statement to SIU Investigators and the following is a summary of that interview. Officer Boykin and Officer Peoples arrived at approximately the same time at the address on the 2100 block of North 18th Drive where the reporting party initiated the 9-1-1 call. Officer Griffin also arrived on scene. Officers Boykin and Griffin approached the house together and were greeted by a female who invited them inside.

Once inside Officer Griffin approached a male wearing a black hoodie toward the north wall of the home between the living and dining room areas. At one point, Officer Boykin heard Officer Griffin mention something about a knife. Officer Boykin was talking with a female in the living room area at the time and broke away to assist Officer Griffin. Officer Griffin eventually went hands on with Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza and Officer Boykin joined in trying to control him. Officer Griffin eventually took Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza to the ground to gain compliance. Officer Boykin also went to the ground and Officer Peoples joined to assist. The three officers were about to get Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza onto his stomach and into handcuffs when a second male (Martin) entered the room and began attacking Officer Griffin. Officer Boykin pulled away to assist Officer Griffin and in a short space of time, Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza freed himself. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza struck Officer Boykin multiple times. Officer Boykin recalls his right arm felt like it was struck with a very heavy object. He saw Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza striking Officer Peoples in the face and sides of her torso. Officer Boykin then observed the knife and saw Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was stabbing Officer Peoples. Officer Boykin drew his sidearm and remembered firing two times striking Mr. BetancourtMendoza center mass. Officer Boykin recalled telling the other male he would shoot him if he went for the knife. Officer Boykin described the proximity to Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza when he fired two shots.

Officer Peoples was on top of Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza who was on his back at the time but still armed with the knife and continued to fight. Officer Boykin had already been stabbed in the right arm and was bleeding profusely. Officer Boykin stated he was concerned about shooting Officer Peoples so he moved in and fired two shots from approximately 12 inches away from Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s torso. After the shots, Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza lost grip of the knife and it fell to the floor. Suspect #2, Martin, looked as if he was crawling toward the knife which is when Officer Boykin told him if he goes for the knife he will kill him. Martin complied with police at that point. Officer Peoples placed a tourniquet on Boykin’s right arm. Officer Boykin observed stab wounds on Officer Peoples and both he left and Officer Peoples left the home to seek medical treatment as soon as other officers started arriving. Officer Peoples drove Officer Boykin to the Lourdes Emergency Department for treatment. Officer Boykin suffered a 4.5cm laceration of the right forearm including a 4cm muscle tear. Pasco Officer Peoples- Officer Peoples provided a voluntary statement to SIU Investigators and the following is a summary of that interview. When Officer Peoples first arrived at the 2100 block of N. 18th Drive, she made contact with individuals occupying a vehicle outside the residence. The occupants of the vehicle indicated they were not involved but observed other family members yelling at each other and left as they did not want to be a part of it.

Officer Peoples gathered initial information from the vehicle occupants and joined Officers Boykin and Griffin who were already inside the home. Officer Peoples heard Officer Griffin tell a male (Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza) “Do not go for that knife.” Officer Peoples did not see a knife or know where it was at this time. Officer Peoples stated Officer Griffin went hands on and threw the male against the wall and then to the floor trying to control him. Officer Boykin eventually joined in to attempt to control Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza. He continued to fight with officers moving from the dining area to the living room. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was taken to the ground but rolled on his side and was still able to resist the officers. As officers were able to get Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s hands behind him in a pre-cuffing position, another male (Martin) came from the hallway and attacked Officer Griffin. Officer Peoples was controlling Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s feet area and Officer Boykin was controlling the upper body at the time Martin attacked Officer Griffin. Officer Boykin also pulled toward Martin to assist Officer Griffin gain control. Officer Peoples stated she did not have enough weight on Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza to keep him on the floor and he was able to stand up. Officer Peoples also stood up and was able to grab hold of Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza and Officer Boykin joined to assist. Officers Peoples and Boykin took Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza back to the floor.

Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was on his back and Officer Peoples was holding him down with her weight. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza began striking Officer Peoples in the face but she did not know she was being stabbed at the time. Officer Boykin said “knife” and Officer Peoples realized she was being stabbed with a knife. Officer Peoples attempted to go for her gun but Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza started to slash at her face. Officer Peoples stated she believed Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was going to kill her and tried to get her firearm. Before she could draw her firearm she heard two pops and the impacts and slashing stopped and her ears were ringing. Officer Boykin told her to handcuff Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza but his arms were stiff. Officer Boykin yelled something about getting a belt as he was bleeding and needed a tourniquet. Officer Peoples placed a tourniquet on Officer Boykin and holstered his weapon for him as he was too weak and was losing a lot of blood. Officer Griffin was able to handcuff Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza. Officer Peoples shortly thereafter transported Officer Boykin and herself to the hospital. Officer Peoples had two puncture marks on her face and lacerations on her cheek and forehead. The bridge of her nose was filleted open and medical staff had to glue the skin flap back on the bridge of her nose. Officer Peoples stated that she and Officer Boykin could have been killed without the quick actions by Officer Boykin. Pasco Officer Griffin- Officer Griffin provided a voluntary statement to SIU Investigators and the following is a summary of that interview.

Officer Griffin was one of the three officers to arrive at the 2100 block of North 18th Drive and made contact with about three individuals inside the home. Officers were invited inside the home by one of the occupants. Officer Griffin stated he asked which person had the cell phone since that was his understanding for the request for officers. A male, later identified as Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza stated he had the phone and took a couple steps back. Officer Griffin noticed a pocketknife clipped into his right front pocket. Officer Griffin told Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza “I’m going to secure that knife for now” and went to pull it out of his pocket when Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza started to pull away. Officer Griffin took him to the floor. At this point the knife had not come out and Mr. BetancourtMendoza continued to tense up. Officer Boykin joined Officer Griffin and tried to get Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza under control. Officer Griffin stated he was on top of Mr. BetancourtMendoza with his weight keeping him down. Officers Boykin and Peoples moved in to assist taking control of him. While the three officers were attempting to control Mr. BetancourtMendoza, a male (Martin) came running and yelling down the hallway. Officer Griffin went to engage with this person, and stated they started fighting and ended up on the ground against the base of the couch. Officer Griffin said he had Martin pinned for about 15 seconds when he heard two gunshots and described being able to feel the shock of the discharge of the weapon. Officer Griffin looked up to see Officer Boykin who had blood pouring down his hand. He heard Officer Boykin said he got stabbed. He saw Officer Peoples had blood on her face and did not know she had been stabbed as well. Officer Griffin was able to handcuff Martin after the shooting. Officer Griffin stated he did not see the knife come out and the only time he saw the knife was when it was in Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza’s right pocket. After the shooting, Officer Griffin checked on Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza and began CPR with Officer Mullen until medics arrived. Officer Mullen was one of many officers who responded to the scene after Officer Boykin announced over the radio shots fired and requested additional units to respond. Officer Griffin stated he thought he activated his BWC after he performed CPR but review of BWC coverage shows it was activated a few seconds before initiating CPR. Officer Griffin’s BWC coverage showed Pasco Fire Department personnel arriving and taking over CPR and medical treatment. Officer Griffin stated he didn’t believe the shooting would have happened if Martin didn’t assault the officers and involve himself into the situation.

AUTOPSY REPORT

Dr. Sigmund Menchel performed the autopsy on December 19, 2019. The cause and manner of death is two gunshot wounds to the chest. Both bullets were recovered during the autopsy.

CONCLUSION

It is clear family members tried to prevent Martin from interfering with the arrest of Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza. Family members stated they were concerned about Martin getting involved. A review of this case presented clear evidence that Martin Mendoza committed the crimes of Manslaughter in the Second Degree, and 3 counts of assault in the third degree upon each of the officers. Martin’s actions enabled Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza to arm himself with the knife in his pocket. Martin negligently created a situation that resulted in the need for deadly use of force by police. Martin Mendoza pled guilty to these charges and was sentenced on October 12, 2021. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza is also responsible for his actions in assaulting Officers Peoples and Boykin.

Both of these officers sustained significant injuries with serious wounds from this assault. Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza made the decision to arm himself with his knife despite numerous requests by officers to comply with arrest. Officer Peoples made a quick decision to transport Officer Boykin to the nearest hospital for treatment. Officer Boykin went into emergency surgery to repair the damage to the artery in his arm. Officer Peoples suffered multiple stab wounds and cuts to her face. Officer Boykin’s use of deadly force was reasonable and justified under the circumstances in this case and prevented the loss of life to himself and his fellow officers. Officer Peoples stated she believed she would have been killed if Officer Boykin hadn’t stopped Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza. The BWC coverage shows that Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza was being controlled by the three officers and the situation was under control. Martin Mendoza charged at officers enabling Mr. Betancourt-Mendoza to break free and arm himself with his knife leading to this deadly encounter. I would like to thank the SIU Team for their work on this case as well as the medical staff at Lourdes who treated the injured officers. Thank you, Shawn Sant Franklin County Prosecutor

Source: 610KONA