Newly released audio, video shows confusion leading up to off-duty cop's death

Deputy Jonathan Feller mistakenly shot and killed off-duty Officer Donald Sahota, who was fighting with a robbery suspect who showed up at his home


By Maxine Bernstein
Oregonlive.com

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Deputies trying to stop an armed robbery suspect who ran to an off-duty Vancouver officer’s house had no idea who was who when the two men started fighting in the driveway during a confrontation that lasted less than two minutes.

Audio from a 911 call, police radio dispatches and aerial video released Friday show the glut of information pouring in on the night of Jan. 29.

But none of it appeared to help officers distinguish between Officer Donald Sahota and the suspect he was trying to restrain, Julio Cesar Segura.

Segura had rung Sahota’s doorbell, claiming he needed help and wanted to make a call. Segura had just held up a nearby Chevron mini-mart, investigators said.

Sahota’s wife, Dawnese, called 911 to report a stranger at the door.

Within four minutes of the call, Clark County sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Feller pulled up and shot Donald Sahota, 52, three times with a .223-caliber rifle, killing him.

Feller said he fired after seeing Sahota grab a gun in the driveway and race to the porch, kicking at the front door.

Feller told investigators that he mistook Sahota for the suspect.

Investigative files released by the Clark County District Attorney’s Office include many new details that illuminate the confusion at the scene.

An emergency dispatcher on the phone with Sahota’s wife never asked for a description of her husband after she identified him as a police officer. The dispatcher urged the couple to stay inside the home.

At one point, the suspect walked away from the couple’s front door and appeared to be heading off the property, but then he returned to the porch when Donald Sahota stepped outside to talk to him, the records and video show.

Segura would later tell police that he had started to leave but the man opened the door, so he turned back and approached, thinking he might get some assistance.

Segura said the homeowner told him, “Oh wait, I might be able to help you,” then stepped out of the house with a gun, claimed to be a police officer and told him he’s going to make a citizen arrest.

“It was crazy because I just asked a cop to help me run from the cops,” Segura said in an interview with investigators.

Segura is accused of stabbing Sahota in the upper torso and abdomen outside the house and then running inside.

Segura faces three first-degree murder charges, one for each stab wound, as well as a first-degree kidnapping charge that accuses him of grabbing at Sahota’s wife while pushing his way into the home.

Feller was placed on administrative leave, as is standard in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond to a request for Feller’s current job status.

Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik has sent the investigation to the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys for an outside review because his office is prosecuting Segura in Sahota’s death.

EMERGENCY CALL FROM THE HOME

Dawnese Sahota’s call to 911 had started out calmly, with her whispering to a dispatcher that a stranger was at the couple’s door on a dead-end rural lane in Battle Ground.

She relayed that the man said he had just crashed his car and needed to call somebody. She said the man seemed suspicious and that she and her husband heard sirens in the area.

The unidentified dispatcher told Dawnese Sahota to close the front door.

She immediately told him that her husband was a police officer and that he was armed. Donald Sahota was trying to talk to the man, as she remained in another part of the home and stayed on the emergency line, she said.

The dispatcher asked for a description of the stranger.

“Of my husband or?” Dawnese Sahota asked.

“Sorry, of the subject,” the dispatcher directed.

Segura had gone to the Sahotas’ door after robbing a Chevron mini-mart in the Orchards area of Clark County at gunpoint about 8:15 p.m., according to investigators.

The initial description of Segura in the armed robbery case said he was white, with shaggy hair, wearing a gray-blue sweatshirt and sweatpants and carrying what appeared to be a Glock handgun.

Segura had run into the Sahotas’ neighborhood after ditching a stolen two-door Mercedes-Benz that deputies had been chasing.

After the dispatcher asked Dawnese Sahota to describe the man at the front door, she moved closer and asked her husband.

Donald Sahota can be heard on the 911 audio saying that the man appeared to be Latino, with black hair and about 5-foot-5.

“Any other descriptors? Like clothing?” the dispatcher asked, without getting any response.

The dispatcher urged Dawnese Sahota to keep the front door closed.

By then, her husband was outside.

“Oh my gosh, they’re in an altercation,” she said. “I need to find some handcuffs. He’s got him on the ground.”


PLANE, DRONE CATCH FIGHT

Meanwhile, a Portland police plane and Clark County sheriff’s deputies monitoring a drone radioed to officers on the ground.

They said the armed robbery suspect was spotted walking on Northeast 84th Avenue and had approached the porch of a home in the 22500 block of Northeast 84th Avenue.

At 8:51 p.m., officers received an updated description of the armed robbery suspect based on a review of the convenience store’s video surveillance footage: a dark- or tan-skinned white male, wearing white long-sleeved shirt, black undershirt, blue jeans, dark shoes, white baseball cap with a black bill, mask, glasses and shaggy hair.

Aerial video showed the suspect walk off the Sahotas’ porch and away from the home before he walked back to the front door, where apparently Donald Sahota had emerged. The video doesn’t immediately show Sahota.

Sahota’s wife told the dispatcher that her husband was trying to keep the suspect at their property, after learning he was wanted by police.

In quick succession, the aerial video shows one man taking another to the ground in the driveway of the home.

“It looks like the guy is taking the other guy into custody,” one officer from the plane radioed.

Another said: “He’s got this guy on the ground.”

“That guy’s a cop. He’s probably armed,” said one officer who appeared to be watching from the plane.

“Looks like they may be fighting,” said another officer. It’s unclear if the officer was watching from the plane or looking at the drone footage.

“They’re definitely fighting. Let’s move down there, guys,” an officer from the plane directed.

“Moving in,” responded another officer.

Meanwhile, Dawnese Sahota remained on the line with a 911 dispatcher.

She told the dispatcher: “He’s fighting with him right now. I don’t know what to do. … I have to go help him.”

The dispatcher asked, “Any gun on the suspect?”

She told dispatch, presumably referring to Segura, “He’s reaching for something.”

At one point, she was heard saying, “He’s in a white …” but it’s unclear to whom she was referring as she didn’t complete the thought, switching to report what she was seeing.

“My husband is on the ground with him. Officers are here. He’s hitting my husband!”

Radio traffic continued from the police plane:

“Is that his gun on the ground?”

“Looks like a hot thing just fell, a gun or something. They’re still struggling. Step it up!”

An officer from the plane then said he can see a “gun right there.”

“He just picked it up!” an officer on the radio can be heard exclaiming.

Aerial video shows a dark item falling to the driveway’s pavement as Donald Sahota and Segura continued to wrestle a couple feet away.

Segura was able to break free, stood up and ran to the front door, according to the video.

Sahota took about four steps to pick up his gun, as Feller pulled into the driveway, feet from him, the headlights on the deputy’s SUV lighting him up.

Sahota then ran to the porch and kicked on the front door as Feller stepped out of his car and fired, according to the overhead video.

[MORE COVERAGE: ‘Bad to worse to tragic:’ Crucial questions remain in LEO's mistaken shooting of off-duty cop]

CONFUSION REIGNS

At that point, officers believed they shot the suspect, the audio, video and police interviews indicate.

Dawnese Sahota can be heard over the 911 call line screaming, “Oh my God!”

She ran out of the garage into the driveway, her hands in the air, still connected to 911.

“Is my husband OK?”

The dispatcher on the line with her was struggling to find out what had happened.

“What’s going on?’’ he asked, and then reported, “Gunshots, gunshots.”

The officers watching from overhead reported a man was down in front of the home’s door.

A police supervisor directed other officers to “bodycheck themselves to make sure all officers are OK.”

A LifeFlight helicopter was an hour out, dispatch reported. Medics headed to the home.

“Confirming our only injury is the suspect, correct?” a dispatcher responded.

“We just have one injured,” an officer responded.

“Copy, thank you.”

A short time later, police asked a chaplain to stage on the Sahotas’ street.

Segura had run into the house after stabbing Sahota, forcing his way inside, and thrust his knife into a couch, investigators said.

After the gunshots, Segura put his hands out the front door.

Police on scene at first thought he was the homeowner and ordered him back inside.

Soon they realized that the off-duty police officer had been shot.

Segura exited the home, walking backward as instructed with his hands in the air. He complied with commands to get on the ground and was arrested, according to video footage and reports.

Then officers approached Sahota and waved medics in. Sahota was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police found a 9mm bullet hole in the front doorframe of the home and a casing nearby, suggesting Sahota had fired his gun. But no officers at the scene heard or saw Sahota fire, according to the reports.

Feller later told investigators that he believed the man kicking the front door was the armed robbery suspect and yelled for him to get on the ground before he fired.

Another witness officer said he heard Feller issue the command before firing.

Sahota was wearing a short-sleeve white shirt, with a dark shirt pulled up, blue jeans and dark socks, according to police and video.

The aftermath at the home “was just chaos,” said Tyler King, a Ridgefield police officer who had responded.

King had parked down the driveway of the Sahotas’ home and walked onto the scene a few seconds after Sahota was shot. He saw Dawnese Sahota run out of the garage and grabbed her, he said, pulling her away from the house as she screamed for her husband.

King told investigators he tried to get her to sit in a patrol car, but she wouldn’t.

“I had no idea what to do, we’ve never had anything like that,” he said.

“None of us really knew what happened,” King said. “No one knew who the homeowner was, no one knew that it was Sahota’s house. The ( Vancouver Police Department) guys probably saw him and recognized who he was. But dispatch didn’t say it was Sahota’s house and never said what he was wearing or what he looked like.”

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