Law enforcement tasked with investigating the fatal police shooting of Kevin Peterson Jr. say Clark County deputies fired a total of 34 rounds, with four rounds striking the 21-year-old Black man.
The investigation into the shooting is complete and will be sent to a prosecutor outside of Clark County, investigators announced Wednesday. Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said it will be reviewed by the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office.
Three deputies fatally shot Peterson, of Camas, following a planned drug sale of 50 Xanax pills between him and a confidential informant outside a Quality Inn motel in Hazel Dell on the evening of Oct. 29, according to court records.
The 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 raised questions about the circumstances leading up to the shooting, with much of the focus on whether he had fired a Glock 23 .40-caliber handgun at deputies.
Investigators said earlier this month that they did not have evidence Peterson discharged the weapon in the U.S. 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.
The family’s attorney Ben Crump has said those initial claims of Peterson firing upon law enforcement were flagrantly false.
In a Wednesday press release, Herrmann Law Group, Washington-based attorneys also representing Peterson’s family, said newly released video shows Peterson was shot from behind.
Kevin Peterson Sr., Peterson’s father, said on behalf of the family: “Kevin recently became a father. He was excited about fatherhood. The sheriff and others lied when they said Kevin shot at officers. Now we see the video, and Kevin’s back was toward the officers, but they shot him anyway. They chased him down, trapped him, and killed him.”
The fourth and final news release from the city of Battle Ground, which has been handling the release of information for the investigative team, says the shooting began as a drug investigation where deputies intended to arrest Peterson for attempted delivery of controlled substances.
“In their briefing before the operation, detectives shared a social media post by Peterson Jr. that indicated violence toward law enforcement,” the news release says.
Investigators previously identified the three officers who fired at Peterson as Deputy Jeremy Brown, 46, a 14-year veteran of the sheriff’s office assigned to the regional drug task force; Detective Robert Anderson, 42, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s office assigned to the regional drug task force; and Deputy Jonathan Feller, 46, who has been with the sheriff’s office for 2½ years and works patrol but reportedly has about 14 years of law enforcement experience in South Dakota.
According to the investigation, on the day of the shooting, deputies attempted to contact Peterson in the parking lot of the Quality Inn. He ran from his car. They ordered him to stop, but he kept running and dropped a handgun, which he picked up despite deputies’ commands not to, and continued fleeing.
When Peterson entered the bank’s parking lot, a deputy came within about 10 yards of Peterson; other deputies once again told him to stop and drop his gun. Peterson ran toward law enforcement officers who were arranging to contain their fleeing suspect, and he pointed his gun at them, according to the news release.
All three involved deputies said that before firing their weapons, they believed Peterson posed a lethal threat to either themselves or other responding officers, according to the news release. They told investigators Peterson had aimed his firearm at them while “multiple gunshots were going off around them. They believed Peterson Jr. had fired or had already shot at them,” the news release says.
A second volley of shots was discharged by deputies after Peterson fell to the ground, then sat up and reportedly pointed his firearm in their direction again, according to investigators.
Shortly after the shooting, one of the involved deputies advised via radio that he thought Peterson may have fired “a couple” shots in their direction, according to the news release.
Legal review process
Now, a Pierce County prosecutor 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.
The prosecutor 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.
Since 2017, 14 police shootings involving Clark County law enforcement or a county resident have been deemed justified by state prosecutors. Two other cases are still under review, and the ruling in another shooting was unavailable Wednesday. Additionally, a Multnomah County, Ore., district attorney declined to ask a grand jury to review the actions of Clark County law enforcement involved in a shooting there.
Although the Peterson case is already being sent to a prosecutor, additional information, such as lab reports, is still pending. Investigators say that evidence will be submitted to the prosecutor as supplemental reports when they are received.
Officer-involved shooting investigations, as they’re traditionally called, can take upwards of six months to complete. Investigators finished looking into Peterson’s death in less than a month.
Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Troy Brightbill said in an email that there are times where a prosecutor or an investigative team chooses to wait until all reports are in before filing a case. The main investigation can often be completed within the first month, but additional reports can take longer. For example, medical examiners often wait for toxicology results to come in before issuing their final report. Those results can take months and are often the issue that creates the most delay, Brightbill said.
“We feel that it is important to get the information from our investigation to the prosecutor as soon as reasonably possible, so the prosecutor can begin the review process. This is part of our effort to be professional and transparent, so the information from our investigation can be made available to the family, the involved agencies and the public,” Brightbill said.
Last week, Mark Lindquist of Herrmann Law Group said his office had hired an independent investigator, and it had an independent autopsy performed on Peterson.
“It takes time and work to dig up the truth, but I’m confident we will get there,” Lindquist said.
He added on Wednesday: “Nobody should die over a fistful of Xanax.”
Video made by law enforcement
The investigative team put together a video for the shooting investigation, which can be viewed on YouTube. It was compiled by using surveillance video from nearby businesses, drone video, dispatch audio recordings, and information obtained from interviews with the involved deputies and witnesses. Clark County deputies do not have body-worn cameras or vehicle-based cameras.
The 11-minute video begins with text saying it was compiled using “the best video and audio” available. Additional text throughout the video mirrors the final news release and information shared previously. The video shows a social media post from Peterson — a selfie with text imposed over the middle, partly reading “(I’m going to) feed the law,” followed by a gun emoji. Then, another social media image is displayed, of a hand holding two small bags containing pills.
The video continues to guide viewers through the response overlapped with emergency radio traffic: “It probably wouldn’t hurt to try and contact him. … We’re approaching,” the recording says.
Peterson is seen running from his car around the corner of the motel. Officers are told not to chase him around the corner as it is believed he was holding a gun. Next, Peterson is shown walking south behind the shuttered bank, through its drive-thru. Footage from an address across the street shows two of the involved deputies arriving in vehicles; the video is interspersed with maps showing Peterson’s route through the Hazel Dell businesses.
Peterson turns north and starts to run away when he is presumably shot by deputies behind him. He falls forward, twists around and raises his gun. A deputy can be heard saying “shots fired” twice, but makes no indication as to who fired.
Lastly, drone footage shows a team of officers approaching Peterson, first behind a vehicle and then in a line with each other. They reach him, flip him over and place him in handcuffs. The video says four minutes passed before they started their approach.
However, many questions remain unanswered, the family’s attorneys said.
Video released by the investigative team was edited, and the team admits “video timestamps are not fully accurate,” Herrmann Law Group said in its news release.
While Peterson was running away, Deputy Anderson shot at him, the attorneys said. The video from the bank camera shows Peterson apparently falling from a shot that hit him from behind; he is still fleeing during the initial gunshots, they said.
“When law enforcement makes a false accusation, as they did in the shooting of Kevin, it’s heartbreaking for the family,” said Lara Herrmann of Herrmann Law Group. “The mistrust it creates affects the family and the community. Where’s the apology from the sheriff for the false accusation claiming Kevin shot at officers? Now they are saying Kevin pointed a gun at officers, but the video doesn’t show that. Instead, the video shows that Kevin was no threat. This raises a question of police protecting their own.”