A Clark County sheriff’s deputy mistakenly shot and killed an off-duty Vancouver police officer as the officer scuffled with an armed robbery suspect who attempted to break into his home Saturday night.
Vancouver police identified the officer who died as Donald Sahota, 52, of Battle Ground. Sahota, a patrol officer, had been with the agency since 2014. He had a wife and two children.
A Clark County sheriff’s deputy fired several rounds at Sahota from a rifle “within seconds” of arriving on the scene at Sahota’s house and before determining he was the homeowner, not the robbery suspect, investigators said in a statement late Sunday night.
The shots struck and killed Sahota as he was holding his own gun and running after the robbery suspect, who was attempting to enter his home, the Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team said in a statement.
Sahota collapsed on his front porch as his wife was on the phone with emergency dispatch, according to the statement.
His wife had called 911 after the robbery suspect pounded on their door seeking help, saying he had just been involved in a collision. She reported that her husband was an armed off-duty Vancouver police officer and gone outside to their driveway to hold the robbery suspect for responding deputies, investigators said.
Sahota and the suspect had gotten into a fight outside the house as Sahota’s wife stayed on the phone with a dispatcher. Sahota at one point lost control of his gun and the robbery suspect stabbed him, according to investigators.
“The suspect broke free from the struggle and ran toward the officer’s residence,” the statement said. Sahota recovered his gun and then ran after the suspect as the man tried to enter the officer’s home with the sharp weapon that he used to stab Sahota, investigators said.
“Within seconds of responding law enforcement officers arriving on scene, one Clark County Deputy Sheriff fired several rounds from a rifle striking the off-duty officer,” according to the statement. “The off-duty officer/homeowner collapsed on his front porch before responding officers were able to determine he was the homeowner and not the alleged robbery suspect.”
Earlier Sunday, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that left out basic information, including the time and location of the shooting and who was killed. Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik declined to comment on the shooting.
According to the initial account provided by Commander Todd Barsness of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, the agency responded to an armed robbery Saturday at a convenience store in the Orchards area adjacent to Vancouver. Barsness said the suspect took off in a stolen car and headed toward Battle Ground, a city to the north.
A 28-year-old who works at the Chevron station in Orchards said the man robbed the store about 8:14 p.m.
The clerk, who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety, said the man approached him and pointed a black handgun at his chest, with his hand over the slide, and demanded money.
The clerk, who has worked at the station for nine months, handed over $583. Only one other employee was in the store at the time.
The robber took off in a stolen midnight blue Mercedes-Benz that sat to the side of the gas station’s mini-mart. The car turned left out of the lot onto Northeast 99th Street, the clerk said.
The clerk called the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and deputies responded within two minutes, he said.
The robber was described as having shaggy brown hair and wearing blue jeans, a white sweatshirt with gray splotches on it and a flat-billed baseball cap. He looked to be in his 20s.
Authorities chased the suspect, who ditched the car and ran to a residence, which belonged to Sahota.
Clark County deputies tried to stop the suspect, spotted driving north on Interstate 205, according to investigators. He didn’t stop and eventually took the Battle Ground exit off Interstate 5, where officers had used spike strips to stop the Mercedes. The robbery suspect then ran from the car and ended up at Sahota’s house.
Officers provided emergency care to Sahota, but he died at the scene. The robbery suspect surrendered after Sahota was shot and was arrested. Neither the deputy who fired the rifle nor the robbery suspect has been publicly identified.
Sheriff’s deputies returned to the gas station about 8:45 p.m. Saturday as the clerk was still pulling video surveillance images. He said they told him they had gotten the robbery suspect.
“My heart goes out to Officer Sahota’s family and friends and those of us in his VPD family as well. His death is a tragic loss, and he will be deeply missed by many,” Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain said in a statement Sunday. McElvain offered no other details about what led to the shooting.
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said she is “heartbroken by the loss of Officer Donald Sahota.”
McEnerny-Ogle said in a statement that she does not have “all the details” of how Sahota died. She said flags at city buildings will be lowered to half-staff.
“I hope the community will join me as we hold Officer Sahota’s family and our law enforcement community in our thoughts and hearts,” she said.
Ed Baxter, a neighbor of Sahota’s, said he heard sirens and saw police cars coming up their road Saturday night between 9 and 10 pm.
“It was one police car after police car after police car just flying down the road,” he said.
Baxter was stunned because their gravel road dead-ends and is fairly remote. Sahota’s house sits one house away from the road’s dead-end.
Baxter’s son called police to find out what happened and was told authorities caught someone who had robbed the Chevron gas station. He wasn’t told anything further.
Baxter said he was devastated when he learned Sahota had been killed.
“He’s always been a nice, helpful neighbor,” Baxter said. “He helped me clean my yard when I first moved here in 2006.”
Baxter also said he had talked to Sahota just a few weeks ago because Sahota was putting in a surveillance camera near their road’s bank of residential mailboxes because someone had been breaking into them.
Baxter and another neighbor, Kim Wolfe, said they heard the robbery suspect had entered the neighborhood from the south end of Northeast 84th Avenue, coming from the direction of 219th Street, also known as Washington State Route 502.
Wolfe said another neighbor who was closer to the Sahota family went to the home to comfort Sahota’s wife.
Wolfe said at least 15 police cars, three fire trucks and an ambulance had raced down the street about 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
She said she’s saddened by the violence that struck their street.
“That something like this would happen out here is very strange because it’s really remote,” Wolfe said.
Baxter said he thinks that’s why Sahota chose to live there — “out and away where people couldn’t harass him.”
In a 2016 article in the local paper, The Reflector, Sahota’s wife said the family moved to Battle Ground 10 years earlier in search of a safe community to raise their two children.
Sahota worked as a Vancouver police armorer and was most recently assigned to the agency’s training unit. He previously worked for the Gresham and Port of Portland police departments.
“Don was a kind and thoughtful person, someone we will always remember for his tenacious work ethic and commitment to bringing justice to victims and their families,” Gresham Police Chief Travis Gullberg said in a statement. “We are grieving his loss and the entire situation. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, coworkers, and the entire Washington law enforcement community.”
The regional Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team is investigating the shooting, which is the 10th by Vancouver police officers or Clark County sheriff’s deputies since early 2019.
Last year, a Clark County detective, Jeremy Brown, was killed on duty. Brown, 46, was shot in the chest as he sat in an unmarked Jeep in a parking lot of an east Vancouver apartment complex, doing surveillance on three people suspected of stealing a stash of firearms from a storage shed in early June.
Zane Sparling of The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed to this report.