Pierce County prosecutors reviewing the investigation into the fatal police shooting of Kevin Peterson Jr. have a thorny history with one of the attorneys representing the 21-year-old Black man’s family.
Peterson’s family is being represented by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump and attorneys in Tacoma with Herrmann Law Group. One of the attorneys is Mark Lindquist, who was Pierce County’s top prosecutor before being unseated in November 2018 by former colleague Mary Robnett.
A small team of Pierce County prosecutors, headed by Chief Criminal Deputy Jim Schacht, will review the law enforcement investigation and make a legal determination in Peterson’s shooting, office spokesman Adam Faber said.
“There is not a timeline for completing review. Our office has received much of the evidence, but we still await certain reports, such as the toxicology report, 3D scene analysis, etc.,” Faber said in an email.
Three Clark County deputies shot Peterson 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, according to investigators.
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.
Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik asked Pierce County prosecutors to review the deputies’ actions in the case, in an effort to increase independence in the investigation.
The prosecutors will decide if the three involved deputies’ use of deadly force was lawful and justified. Under state law, an officer may use deadly force to arrest or apprehend a person whom the officer reasonably believes has committed or tried to commit a felony. Officers must believe that its use was necessary to prevent serious physical harm or death to themselves and others.
They will also determine if the deputies’ actions reach the “good faith” standard. That is, a similarly situated law enforcement officer would have also used deadly force under the circumstances.
Their findings will be presented in a report to Clark County.
Lindquist did not address questions about Pierce County carrying out the review or whether he had an inkling this is how the case would be handled when he agreed to represent Peterson’s family.
He said his law firm is focused on seeking justice through civil action rather than the criminal side of the case.
“There are numerous examples of cases where prosecutors declined to criminally prosecute officers, but a civil action against the officers and their department was successful. Again, separate actions, different standards. Furthermore, there is often more information revealed in the course of a civil action. (The family’s) attorneys are inclined to do what we are doing here: aggressively pursuing the truth,” Lindquist said.
Very personal campaign
Robnett is the first woman to lead the prosecutor’s office in Pierce County. Her victory for prosecuting attorney ended the nine-year tenure of Lindquist.
She first joined the office in 1994 and handled robberies, homicides, kidnappings and sexual assaults, among other cases, according to the office’s website. Her campaign website says she also worked as an assistant attorney general in the Sexually Violent Predators unit for nearly six years.
Pierce County law enforcement organizations strongly backed Robnett, citing her record of winning important cases and collaborative relationships with local police. The prosecutor’s office website says Robnett’s husband is a retired law enforcement officer.
The campaign was very personal, according to The News Tribune, the daily newspaper in Tacoma. Robnett had worked for the prosecutor’s office for about 18 years. She supported Lindquist’s first campaign, and he appointed Robnett as his chief criminal deputy after taking office. She left in 2012, however, dissatisfied with his leadership.
Lindquist’s time at the prosecutor’s office included “costly litigation related to his actions, multiple accusations of misconduct from his subordinates and an independent investigation that found a politicized, image-obsessed office driven by intimidation and retaliation,” the newspaper reported.
Schacht, the prosecutor leading the Peterson review, also worked with Lindquist. The aforementioned investigation found Schacht was moved to a less-favored position in the office after speaking out against his boss.
A veteran of the office, Schacht was assigned as the new chief criminal deputy prosecutor after Robnett took office.