Kevin E. Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old Black man from Camas, has been identified as the man shot and killed Thursday evening by Clark County sheriff’s deputies on Northeast Highway 99 in Hazel Dell.
The man’s name and condition were withheld by authorities until Friday afternoon, but his father told The Oregonian newspaper his name earlier in the day. The younger Peterson’s girlfriend, Olivia Selto, separately confirmed his identity and that he had died at the scene of the shooting.
The shooting, which prompted an early-morning demonstration by a group of protesters in support of Black lives, occurred shortly before 6 p.m. in the parking lot at a US Bank branch, 6829 N.E. Highway 99. The branch has been closed for months because of the pandemic and is slated for permanent closure.
Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said at a press conference Friday afternoon that the incident began as detectives from the Clark/Vancouver Drug Task Force were conducting a narcotics investigation in the area.
“A foot pursuit ensued where deputies from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office were chasing a man with a firearm,” Atkins said. “The information I have is that upon entering the parking lot of a bank, the man reportedly fired his weapon at the deputies. The deputies returned fire and the subject was tragically killed. It is my understanding that the man’s firearm was observed at the scene.”
Statement from Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins
"I have a statement, and a commitment, that I want to make to the community and to the family of a young man who lost his life last night.
I will start by telling you that there is a lot about this situation that I don’t know. Under I-940 and the state law requirements of an independent investigation, all of which I support - it is not my investigation and that means I am waiting along with you to learn about much of the details. Here is what I do know:
Just before 6PM on last night, detectives from the Clark/Vancouver Drug Task Force were conducting a narcotics investigation in the 6800 block of NE Hwy 99. A foot pursuit ensued where deputies from the Clark County Sheriff's Office were chasing a man with a firearm. The information I have is that upon entering the parking lot of a bank, the man reportedly fired his weapon at the deputies. The deputies returned fire and the subject was tragically killed. It is my understanding that the man’s firearm was observed at the scene.
The press is reporting that the family has identified the young man involved as Kevin E. Peterson, Jr. It’s important to relate that the loss of a young man’s life likely means there is a grieving father, mother and other family. It is right and correct that the community would grieve along with this family. While I have not spoken with the deputies involved in this matter, I am confident that they are upset at the unfortunate outcome of this encounter. I can say that our agency is grieving as is the Peterson family and the community. Washington State independent investigation protocols require the designation of a law enforcement liaison to Mr. Peterson’s family. It is my commitment to participate as much as I can in ensuring that there is a complete, thorough independent determination of what happened, how it happened and what can be learned from this incident. I believe that it is important that the family be kept updated as much as absolutely possible.
As the community grieves, I call for there to be a respectful and dignified observance of the loss of life in this matter. There is always the potential for misinformation, doubt and confusion – and there may be those who wish to sow seeds of doubt. I insist that we will ALL learn in time what was lawful and/or unlawful, what was proper and/or improper and what we as an agency and community can learn from this matter.
I am committed to the accountability and transparency expected of this community and by state law and stand prepared to do my part as Sheriff in seeing that done. That said, this matter was turned over to the Southwest Washington Independent Investigation Team last night and is being led by the Camas Police Department for this incident.
Battle Ground Police Chief Mike Fort will be putting out further news releases regarding details of the investigation. No further information is being released now, and I am not taking any questions at this time."
However, an hour before a vigil for Peterson on Friday evening, investigators released additional information that did not say if the man fired a weapon.
Three deputies reportedly fired their weapons; all deputies involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard protocol for police shootings.
Investigators said officers had contacted a man, who was suspected of selling drugs in the parking lot of the nearby Quality Inn. They said he was alone in his vehicle and ran when approached.
“Soon after the foot chase began, the man produced a handgun, and the officers backed off,” reads a news release from Battle Ground Police Chief Mike Fort, who is handling the release of information. “A short time later, the subject encountered three Clark County deputies who all discharged their pistols. During the crime scene investigation, a Glock model 23, 40 caliber pistol was found near the deceased by independent crime scene investigators.”
At 5:56 p.m., emergency medical crews were dispatched to the scene for a report of a person with a gunshot wound who was either unconscious or in cardiac arrest, according to dispatch logs.
Selto said she had been on a video call with Peterson during the shooting and said officers did not check on Peterson until they approached and disconnected the call. Peterson’s father told The Oregonian that he arrived at the scene about 6 p.m. but “did not get a chance to identify my son” until 5:30 a.m. Friday.
Authorities said the slain man was identified by family and media as Peterson.
During the press conference, Atkins expressed his condolences to Peterson’s family and said that “it is right and correct that the community would grieve along with this family.”
“While I have not spoken with the deputies involved in this matter, I am confident that they are upset at the unfortunate outcome of this encounter. I can say that our agency is grieving as is the Peterson family and the community.”
Atkins took no questions other than to say his office was prepared for Friday evening’s candlelight vigil at the shooting scene.
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“As the community grieves, I call for there to be a respectful and dignified observance of the loss of life in this matter,” Atkins said. “There is always the potential for misinformation, doubt and confusion — and there may be those who wish to sow seeds of doubt. I insist that we will all learn in time what was lawful and/or unlawful, what was proper and/or improper and what we as an agency and community can learn from this matter.
“I am committed to the accountability and transparency expected of this community and by state law and stand prepared to do my part as sheriff in seeing that done,” he said.
A section of Northeast Highway 99 was closed to traffic for hours Thursday as officers from multiple agencies investigated the scene. Investigators had cleared the scene as of about 9 a.m. Friday.
The sheriff’s office issued a statement late Thursday confirming reports of the shooting heard on police radio and from witnesses. The statement did not offer any details of the shooting, to the point of not saying whether anyone had been shot.
The string of events began with a “contact suspect” dispatch to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office at 5:29 p.m. at US Bank.
About 20 minutes later, police were heard announcing “shots fired” on their radios.
An employee at a nearby business who contacted The Columbian after the shooting said he observed a man running away from law enforcement officers and hearing “lots of shots.”
Joseph Webster, 18, was in the back of Jiffy Lube working with a customer when he heard a screeching of tires across the street at the US Bank parking lot and then gunfire.
“You can’t help but look with all the tires screeching,” he said. “I can’t believe they shot so quick.”
Webster said he was interviewed by police. He said they told him the man had fired a gun at officers, but he said he had not seen that from his vantage point, only the man running away and being shot.
A group of protesters arrived at the shooting scene after midnight Thursday.
A video of the confrontation posted on Twitter by journalist Sergio Olmos of Oregon Public Broadcasting showed a group of about 30 protesters chanting, “Black Lives Matter” and “Say His Name” at investigators at the scene and questioning why some officers had donned what protesters described as “riot gear.”
The story has been picked up by national media, including Newsweek.
The Washington and Oregon chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots networks, released multiple statements Friday demanding more be done to prevent police shootings.
“Kevin Peterson Jr. should be alive today,” said Marci Garnes, a volunteer with the Oregon chapter of Moms Demand Action. “There needs to be a thorough, transparent investigation into what happened, and from our local communities up to Congress, we need policies that hold police accountable and prevent these shootings in the first place.”
NAACP Vancouver Vice President Jasmine Tolbert said the organization “wants to keep the focus on the human being and the life that was lost. We’re not interested in dirty laundry. There has to be a better way.”