A Washington prosecutor’s office located outside of Clark County appointed to review the shooting death of Kevin Peterson Jr. by Clark County Sheriff’s deputies determined the actions of law enforcement were lawful.
The Aug. 16 report, signed by Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett and Chief Criminal Deputy James Schacht, concluded the three deputies’ use of deadly force didn’t merit criminal charges.
On Oct. 29, Clark County Sheriff’s detectives Robert Anderson, Jeremy Brown and sheriff’s deputy John Feller fired a total of 34 shots at Peterson, a 21-year-old Black man, following a foot chase in Hazel Dell. Members of the sheriff’s drug task force were conducting a drug bust on Peterson after an undercover informant set up a deal to buy dozens of Xanax pills from Peterson at the Quality Inn on Northeast Highway 99.
After Peterson arrived at the Quality Inn, officers put on their emergency lights and Peterson fled his vehicle, taking a handgun with him, according to the investigation, at one point dropping the weapon before he recovered it and continued to flee. After he refused commands to drop the weapon, deputies fired at Peterson.
In December, the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office was appointed by Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik. The report concluded although Peterson did not fire any shots at the deputies, “(t)here was no legal requirement for the officers to allow Mr. Peterson to fire first before defending themselves. They did not have to wait for him to pull the trigger.”
Anderson was the first of the three involved officers to confront Peterson, the report stated. After giving Peterson commands not to move and to show his hands, Peterson pulled out a handgun from his pocket and started moving north, the report stated.
Anderson told Peterson to “drop the gun or I’ll shoot,” the report stated, and Peterson ignored opportunities to get rid of the weapon and did not appear to comply with commands.
“So at that point, I kinda just drew the line in the sand and I was — I said, ‘I’ve given the suspect enough commands. If he takes another step, I’m gonna shoot him,’” Anderson said. “(H)e continued to run. I started shooting.”
The investigation determined Anderson fired 18 shots in the confrontation, the report stated. Anderson believed his first shots missed Peterson completely as he continued to run, according to the report. Anderson heard shots fired from someone else and saw Peterson fall to the ground. Peterson sat up and pointed his gun at Brown, at which time Anderson said he heard a “pop” and believed Peterson had shot at Brown.
Feller was on patrol responding to another call when he heard a radio call for immediate assistance, according to the report. When Feller arrived, he said he saw Peterson with his left hand up to his ear and his right arm swinging with a gun in that hand. Feller also gave commands for Peterson to drop the weapon, which were ignored.
Feller said Peterson had pointed the gun at him and stated he thought Peterson was shooting, though he didn’t see muzzle flashes, the report stated. Fearing he was going to be shot or that Peterson would run into other law enforcement nearby, Feller opened fire and saw Peterson sit on the ground before laying down. The investigation found Feller fired nine shots.
Brown, who was assigned as containment, could see Peterson had a cellphone in his hand, and Brown thought he might be filming, the report stated. He heard shots coming from Anderson and Feller, but initially didn’t open fire himself, explaining in his 13 years of law enforcement he decided not to shoot “unless I absolutely have to.”
“I’m hearing shots but I’m not seeing why I should be shooting at this point,” Brown stated.
Brown eventually did fire when Peterson pointed a gun at him, he said in the report, which determined Brown fired eight rounds at Peterson.
Brown would later be shot and killed on July 23 while conducting surveillance at a Vancouver apartment complex on an unrelated investigation.
A search of Peterson’s vehicle turned up dozens of different kinds of pills, the report stated. Records for the firearm found near Peterson showed it was purchased by a relative of Peterson’s, the report stated. Although it was loaded, no shell casings for the firearm’s bullet type were found at the scene.
The phone next to Peterson was found on an active video call, though no videos on the phone were able to be recovered by investigators, according to the report.
An autopsy by the Clark County Medical Examiner determined Peterson was shot four times — once in his neck, once in the chest, and twice in the left arm, the report stated. Two bullets remained in Peterson’s body. One was determined to be fired by Anderson, and the other could have been fired by either Brown or Feller.
Based on communication with the undercover informant who set up the deal, the prosecutor’s office determined they had reasonable concern over the danger of the situation.
“Peterson had ample opportunity to discard the gun before the confrontation in the bank parking lot,” the report concluded. “His actions coupled with his communications with the informant conveyed to the officers that he was intent on getting away and prepared to engage in armed resistance to keep from being arrested.”
Following the release of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s review, Clark County Undersheriff John Chapman stated in a written response that the review was undertaken as “improved transparency and increased accountability” for the response. Pierce County reviewed a prior investigation independent of the sheriff’s office to come to their conclusions.
“Incidents such as this are very difficult on everyone. The loss of life is tragic for all the parties involved,” Chapman stated. “Although some may have expected or wished for a different outcome, we have placed our trust in the independent investigation protocols as put in place by the State of Washington.”
Peterson’s family was disappointed by the review’s conclusion.
“We are shocked an officer gets to shoot Kevin in the back because he’s tired of chasing him. And now the two officers who shot at Kevin while he was running are both back at work,” the family said in a statement. “This is unfair and unsafe for everyone in the community.”
Legal representation for Peterson’s family isn’t convinced by the report, specifically that Peterson had pointed his gun at deputies.
Mark Lindquist, an attorney with Herrmann Law Group, wrote in an email that video evidence wasn’t clear on if Peterson had a gun or cell phone in his hand.
“(E)ither way, he had already been shot,” Lindquist stated.
“Our laws do not allow an officer to shoot a suspect for simply running away. In his own interview, Deputy Anderson admits he shot Kevin because he wasn’t obeying commands and wouldn’t stop running,” Lindquist said in a statement.
Peterson’s family intends to sue the county. They filed a wrongful death tort in March. Lindquist wrote the burden of proof is higher in a criminal prosecution than a civil suit, noting many officer-involved shootings where officers weren’t prosecuted but the jurisdiction was successfully sued.
“I’m confident justice will prevail in the family’s civil suit against the county,” Lindquist said in his statement.
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