Redmond officer who killed woman fired from another law enforcement agency

The Redmond police officer who shot and killed Andrea Churna, a 39-year-old unarmed mother as she tried to surrender to officers in September 2020, had been removed from his position as the county sheriff’s deputy Whatcom on probation 14 months early for poor performance, records show.

Daniel Mendoza, 26, struggled with virtually every aspect of police work during his seven months as a trainee sheriff’s deputy, unable to recite statutes, regularly getting lost answering calls, writing reports confused and failing tests on topics ranging from when the use of force was appropriate to county prosecution policies.

The previous 720 hours he spent learning to be a peace officer at Washington State’s Criminal Justice Training Academy weren’t much better – while he looked sharp and enthusiastic, he was academically last in his class and repeatedly failed a fictional key test scenario. , preventing his graduation. The academy only certified him as a peace officer after Whatcom County stepped in to help him pass his third and final try, according to personal records obtained through public disclosure by the Seattle Times.

“MP Mendoza also had knowledge gaps in the area [of] RCW [Revised Code of Washington], politics and jurisprudence,” Whatcom County Deputy Chief Doug Chadwick wrote in a memo to Field Training Lt. Rodger Funk in May 2019, after Mendoza’s second failed attempt to pass the first phase of field training under the direction of an experienced training officer. The revised code is a compilation of all permanent state laws.

“He doesn’t have a working knowledge of common RCWs he should have a solid knowledge of coming out of the academy. Examples of this have been the definition of “necessary” – a key part of the law governing when police can use lethal force.

“Every recruit is required to recite [the definition] verbatim regularly at the academy, but he couldn’t,” Chadwick wrote.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo in a separation letter to Mendoza dated May 10, 2019 noted that “the post-academic field training program has been a challenge for you, and the framework of training has concluded that you are unable to successfully complete your phase one training requirement after two attempts.

“The first phase is a basic level of on-the-job training and must be completed before you can be released for more difficult and independent phases” of law enforcement, the sheriff wrote, noting in particular that Mendoza could not always write consistent police reports, a “skill [that] is paramount and essential to meet the basic requirements of the position of Deputy Sheriff.

After a “thorough review” of Mendoza’s overall performance, Elfo accepted his staff’s recommendations “which [Mendoza] not to be retained as Deputy Sheriff” and fired him.

In a month, Redmond would hire him as a rookie cop. Current Redmond chief Darrell Lowe said Mendoza was hired by his predecessor, former chief Kristi Wilson, and he could not comment on her decision. Wilson, who left Redmond PD on June 7, 2019, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Messages seeking comment from Mendoza left with his union attorney, Lisa Elliott, and Chief Lowe, were not returned.

A public disclosure request requesting Mendoza’s personal records with Redmond filed by The Times on December 31, 2021, remains pending.

Minutes of a Redmond Public Service Commission meeting on April 15, 2020 noted that Mendoza had completed the department’s field training requirements and had become a patrol officer, a position the department confirmed. which he occupies today.

On September 20, 2020, Mendoza, armed with a high-powered rifle, shot and killed Andrea Churna, the divorced mother of a 7-year-old boy, six times from a distance of 30 feet as she lay outside the door of its upscale Apartment Redmond. Churna was on her stomach, arms outstretched and ankles crossed — “lying down,” was the description Mendoza gave to radio dispatchers.

Churna, the daughter of a retired Michigan State Police commander, had a mental breakdown and called the police for help because she thought someone was trying to break in in her apartment to kill her. Before officers arrived, Churna had fired a single shot from a handgun at the door of his apartment, records show. The handgun had malfunctioned and was found on a patio table in his apartment after his death, according to the inquest.

Shortly after officers responded to Churna’s 911 call, she walked out of her apartment allegedly carrying a handgun, and two other Redmond officers — Ty Tomlinson and Evan Barnard — claim she walked out of her apartment. pointed the gun at them. They fired at least eight rounds in a crossfire that sent bullets through the walls of neighboring apartments. The investigation concluded that Churna, who returned to her apartment unharmed, did not fire on the officers.

According to statements by officers, she walked out of the apartment a second time unarmed, hands in the air, wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants, and was ordered to lie down. At least six officers were crammed at the end of the hallway, guns drawn, some shouting obscene orders. At least one officer carried a bulletproof ballistic shield.

Churna had a cell phone and had called her ex-husband, telling officers she wanted to surrender to him. Tim Churna was in the parking lot being questioned by officers when the shots were fired.

In written statements delivered to the King County Sheriff’s Office days after the shooting by their union’s attorney, several Redmond officers said Churna squirmed on the floor and turned slowly to face the door of his apartment. They wrote that they feared she might retrieve a gun from her apartment.

Mendoza, however, was the only officer to fire his weapon at that time. He never provided a statement to King County detectives and refused to be interviewed, according to sheriff’s documents.

The King County prosecutor’s office said it would not make a final decision on whether criminal charges should be filed pending a coroner’s inquest, which could take years. The Churna shooting is the 43rd in a list of at least 52 ongoing investigations.

Chief Lowe ordered an internal investigation to determine whether department policies were violated. Results are pending.

Mendoza, who had spent the previous four years in the Navy, was hired by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 2, 2018, and sent to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy, where records show that he struggled with academics. and missed several classes.

However, in a series of weekly letters written to Whatcom County training officers, Mendoza remained enthusiastic and determined to do well and noted that he was particularly good at firearms training.

On December 5, 2018, he wrote, “I excel in firearms but am considering doing some additional training to work more on my shooting and sight alignment.

“While I understand that I could never use my weapon on the field, I want to remain proficient in all aspects of my training,” he wrote. Later, in a letter explaining why he had missed 14 hours of training in firearms, control tactics and criminal law due to family issues, he noted that he had worked on his shooting in his “area vital” and promised to make up for the miss. Classes.

However, personnel records show that Mendoza performed poorly on the academy’s tests in Criminal Law, Defensive Tactics, Criminal Investigations, and the Basic Law Enforcement Academy Complete Finals, and failed the fictional scenario twice. on the grounds of the academy, failing to find a gun on a suspect. and drugs on another. As a result, he did not graduate with his class, according to a letter sent to Elfo, the sheriff, by the state Rex Caldwell, commandant of the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, on February 27, 2019. Caldwell said a third failure in the fictional storyline would kick him out of the academy.

In response, Whatcom County put Mendoza through a week of remedial training that Iincluded individual coaching on case law and tactics. It was only then, according to a May 9, 2019 memo from Deputy Chief Criminal Doug Chadwick to former Deputy Jeff Parks, that Mendoza was able to successfully complete the fictional storyline and earn certification as police officer.

Records show he repeatedly got lost en route to service calls and often had to refer to manuals and other documents to refresh his memory of commonly used laws and policies. The writing of his report regularly lacked necessary detail and was riddled with typographical and grammatical errors.

“It was also noted that Deputy Mendoza did not seem to retain the academy’s knowledge of common RCWs,” Chadwick wrote. “During verbal quizzes, Deputy Mendoza is often unable to correctly identify the elements of the crime for common violation of the law that deputies regularly encounter.

“Looking at the totality of the circumstances, Deputy Mendoza is unable to meet the performance expectations of the Sheriff’s Office,” Chadwick concluded, and recommended to Elfo that he be terminated. The next day he was.

CoCorrection: An earlier version of this story misspelled the Redmond Police Chief’s last name. It’s Chief Darrell Lowe, not Love.

About Michael C. Lovelace

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