Regional drug task force members had concerns going into an undercover drug bust that the suspect could be armed, according to newly released documents.
Three Clark County deputies fatally shot Kevin Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old Black man, after a confidential informant had arranged to buy Xanax pills from him outside a Quality Inn in Hazel Dell on the evening of Oct. 29.
One of the deputies who fired on Peterson later told investigators “it was determined DTF officers would handle this operation with care because it appeared the suspect advocated shooting cops.”
Those assumptions were apparently based, in part, on three emojis on Peterson’s Snapchat — used to communicate and arrange the drug sale — that depicted a handgun and explosion facing a police head.
Peterson was armed with a Glock 23 .40-caliber handgun and pointed it at deputies, according to investigative documents. However, he did not fire the weapon, contradicting what officers initially said.
The information was contained in nearly 500 pages of investigative reports released Friday by the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in response to media requests. Additional documents are scheduled to be released later this week.
Investigators concluded Peterson had committed conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance and attempted assault on law enforcement when he pointed his firearm at deputies.
Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik has asked Pierce County prosecutors to review the deputies’ actions in the case.
The fatal shooting occurred shortly before 6 p.m. in the parking lot of a shuttered U.S. Bank branch, 6829 N.E. Highway 99, adjacent to the motel.
Peterson’s death has sparked tense demonstrations in Hazel Dell and downtown Vancouver decrying the killing of a Black man by police.
The three deputies — Detective Robert Anderson, Detective Jeremy Brown and Deputy Jonathan Feller — fired 34 rounds, striking Peterson four times. They said “they felt he posed a lethal threat to them,” the investigative documents state.
The Clark County medical examiner’s report and toxicology results are still pending. However, preliminary autopsy findings state Peterson was shot twice in the chest, once in the left arm and once in the left shoulder. Two of the wounds were “through and through,” meaning the injury was caused by a round entering the body and exiting. The report does not state if Peterson was shot from behind or the front.
Attorneys for Peterson’s family have said they’ve hired an independent investigator, had a second autopsy done and requested all the video footage from the scene.
“There are still pieces missing from the puzzle. For example, we need the unedited video footage, we need the recorded statements of the officers and we need the autopsy,” Mark Lindquist of Herrmann Law Group said Monday. “We are confident the evidence will show Kevin was initially shot from behind as he was running away.
“Our goal is to get to the truth and that’s going to take some more work,” he added.
Did Peterson fire?
Investigators said last month they did not have evidence Peterson discharged his weapon in the US Bank parking lot, based on involved deputy interviews and a lack of casings at the scene. That contradicts a search warrant affidavit filed earlier in the investigation, which cited evidence implying Peterson fired two rounds at deputies. Sheriff Chuck Atkins had also previously said there was an exchange of gunfire.
It appears the misinformation initially stemmed from police radio traffic after the shooting and a misinterpreted photograph of the magazine from Peterson’s handgun.
According to a report authored by Longview police Detective Ralph Webb, Anderson, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, had said Peterson “got off at least two rounds in our direction.” In his interview with investigators, Anderson said he saw Peterson point his weapon at Detective Brown while hearing a pop, leading him to believe Peterson fired.
Brown, a 14-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, had also told investigators that he saw Peterson “blatantly, quickly point the gun” at him. He thought Peterson had shot at him, according to Webb’s report.
In Deputy Feller’s interview, he, too, said Peterson turned to face him and pointed his gun at him. Feller, who’s been with the sheriff’s office for 2 1/2 years, said he heard what he thought were gunshots to his left, and he believed Peterson was shooting at him, according to Webb’s report.
Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Bill Sofianos, who was part of the undercover operation, told investigators he heard a couple of officers at the scene say Peterson had shot at them, but he couldn’t remember who. He later told Peterson’s parents at the scene that Peterson had fired at deputies, according to a report authored by Camas Police Officer David Garcia.
On Nov. 9, investigators did a round count of Peterson’s pistol, which he had purchased from a cousin, and found one round was missing from the magazine. (One round was in the chamber.) Earlier in the investigation, investigators had examined a photo of the same item (taken by Washington State Patrol investigators), and it appeared there were two rounds missing, not one. That information was used by the detective who authored a search warrant affidavit of Peterson’s car and was widely reported by media.
“Despite conflicting accounts and missing information, it’s clear Kevin never fired his gun,” said Lindquist, the family’s attorney.
Reporter Jerzy Shedlock contributed to this report.