Vancouver standoff suspect appears in court

Man, 65, to be charged with assault

By Craig Brown, Columbian Managing Editor and Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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A Vancouver man who was arrested on suspicion of assault Friday night after a nine-hour police standoff appeared Monday in Clark County Superior Court.

During the brief hearing, Peter Benson, 65, appeared wearing a suicide-prevention smock, which are given to jail inmates who may have mental health issues and might try to harm themselves with their clothing. Jeff Barrar from Vancouver Defenders was appointed to represent Benson.

A neighbor leaving for work called 911 Friday afternoon after seeing Benson making a fire in his front yard at 5330 N.W. Esther St. The fire was about four feet tall and getting bigger, the neighbor told dispatchers. Vancouver police Officer Sean Donaldson arrived at the residence to find Vancouver firefighters Chris Moen, Kevin Hart and Jamie Richards in the front yard with Benson. They were standing around a pile of burnt items, including wood, paper, trash and a plastic recycling bin. Benson was spraying water from a garden hose onto the pile.

When Benson saw Donaldson, Benson said “there’s my buddy” and walked toward the house. Although the firefighters told him to stay outside, Benson went into the house and slammed the front door, according to documents filed in Superior Court. Donaldson and the firefighters were talking about what happened when they saw Benson looking at them through the kitchen window. Donaldson and Richards saw a black rifle barrel come up through the window blinds and then point down toward them, court documents said.

Donaldson and the firefighters took cover behind their vehicles and called for help. Benson went further into his house, out of sight, with the weapon, court documents said.

In his report, Donaldson wrote that he believed that the firearm was real and that Benson was going to shoot him and the firefighters.

Patrol officers, along with members of the regional SWAT team, arrived at the house. Adjacent neighbors were evacuated from their homes, said Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp. Nearby Franklin and Lincoln elementary schools, along with Our Lady of Lourdes School, a private Catholic school, were locked down.

Police tried to call Benson on his phone and spoke to him using a PA system on the patrol vehicles, which could be heard from several blocks away, court documents said. They asked him to slowly open the front door and reassured him that if he followed their commands, nobody would get hurt. They also told him that he was under arrest and that they would not leave.

Benson came to the door several times and watched the officers but did not try to return phone calls or make any contact with police, the court documents allege.

In the evening, Detective Rodrigo Osorio got a search warrant for the residence. A robot was sent inside to determine Benson’s whereabouts in the house. The home apparently was cluttered, which made it difficult for the robot to move around.

At about 10 p.m., SWAT members went into the house, found Benson and took him into custody, Kapp said.

Benson faces four counts of third-degree assault — one count for each person he allegedly pointed a gun at — along with second-degree reckless burning.

Benson remains in jail in lieu of $50,000 bail. He is scheduled to appear in court again Tuesday morning.