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Oct. 26, 2021

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Family of Kevin Peterson Jr. files tort claim against Clark County

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:
10 Photos
Family and friends of Kevin Peterson, Jr. assemble at the Aero Club Banquet Room in Vancouver for a press conference on Thursday morning, March 18, 2021.
Family and friends of Kevin Peterson, Jr. assemble at the Aero Club Banquet Room in Vancouver for a press conference on Thursday morning, March 18, 2021. The family announced they planned to sue Clark County for the death of Peterson, who was killed by police in Clark County.(Samuel Wilson for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

A law firm representing the family of Kevin Peterson Jr. announced Thursday it has filed a tort claim for wrongful death against Clark County, alleging that a deputy shot Peterson in the back as he ran away.

The announcement came at a press conference with Peterson’s father, mother and partner and extended family present for support. All said they want justice for Peterson.

“It’s unfair that people are running scared and getting shot in the back by police,” Peterson’s mother, Tammi Bell of Portland, told reporters. It’s been 140 days without her son, she said, and the family remains at a loss.

Kevin Peterson Sr. told reporters he wants to see change and said police body-worn cameras would be a step in the right direction. He also wants to see the officers involved in the shooting held accountable.

“You’re playing God. You’re taking lives,” the Vancouver man said.

He said the shooting investigation has been handled poorly, and he has yet to hear anything from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Hours after the news conference, Sheriff Chuck Atkins issued a statement, calling Peterson’s death a tragedy and sharing condolences with the family.

Atkins said he is awaiting receipt of the tort claim to evaluate it further.

He reiterated that consistent with I-940, his agency had no role in the shooting investigation and that outside investigators were legally required to have named a liaison to update the family on the investigation. (The Southwest Washington Independent Investigations Response team, with assistance from the Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team, led the investigation.)

Shot four times

Three deputies fatally shot Peterson, a 21-year-old Black man, while attempting to arrest him during a drug sting on the evening of Oct. 29; a confidential informant had arranged to buy 50 Xanax pills from Peterson outside a Quality Inn in Hazel Dell, 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.

In all, deputies fired 34 rounds at Peterson, striking him four times. He died at the scene.

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 bullet entering the body and exiting, according to preliminary autopsy findings. The report does not state if Peterson was shot from behind or the front.

Peterson Sr. told media the deputies were not in immediate danger and shouldn’t have fired at all.

During the shooting investigation, crucial details were in dispute. Peterson was armed with a loaded Glock 23 .40-caliber pistol, but he never fired at deputies, contradicting what officials initially said. Investigators concluded Peterson aimed the weapon at pursuing deputies.

However, the tort claim states that Peterson did not point a gun at deputies before being shot. “Instead, he is running away when he is first shot,” the document says.

“After Peterson was shot, he fell down and raised an arm. In his hand there appears to be an object that could be a cellphone or gun,” it reads, citing video surveillance from the bank.

Attorney Mark Lindquist, of Tacoma-based Herrmann Law Group, said the tort claim was sent via certified mail Wednesday. He was unsure if the county had received it yet. Lindquist said the tort claim is a precursor to a lawsuit, in which individual parties or agencies will likely be named. It was not yet known if the lawsuit will be filed locally or in federal court.

In the meantime, he said they will continue an aggressive, independent investigation.

“Our goal here is to get out the truth. And in my experience, it can take a fight, but eventually, the truth does come out with a little bit of work,” Lindquist said.

Peterson remembered

Peterson’s loved ones described him as a genuine, outgoing and kind young man.

His mother spoke of Christmas cards, with lengthy messages, she’d receive from him, as tears welled up in her eyes.

Peterson Sr. said the family has appreciated an outpouring of support, pointing to the community’s turnout at a vigil for his son.

Still, they’re aware of disparaging comments that have been shared about Peterson. Olivia Selto, who’s raising their daughter, said she hopes her daughter doesn’t hear any of it.

“It’s just not who he is, and I just want her to remember him for who he was and how much he loved her, just the way he was,” she said.

Peterson Sr. told reporters that he was “in awe” to learn that another Black man was shot by a deputy three months after and less than a mile from where his son was killed.

Jenoah Donald, 30, was shot during a Feb. 4 traffic stop in Hazel Dell. Investigators say Deputy Sean Boyle wrestled with him in the driver’s seat of Donald’s car before firing twice, striking him once in the head, after the car began rolling forward with Boyle partially inside.

Donald, of Battle Ground, later died from his injuries after being removed from life support.

“Like, ‘What are you guys doing, you know? Why is it that we’re being targeting, you know?’ Because you don’t see white people being targeted as much as Blacks or Hispanics, so it’s a little irritating,” Peterson Sr. said. “So every time we turn on the TV, we’re seeing another Black person being killed by law enforcement, which, you know, they’re there to protect and serve, and they’re not doing that.”

Herrmann Law Group is also representing Donald’s family. That shooting remains under investigation.

Investigators tasked with looking into Peterson’s shooting death sent their findings to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, but an outside prosecutor’s office will decide whether the deputies’ actions were legally justified.

Peterson’s mother told The Columbian she doesn’t expect any criminal charges to come out of the investigation.

“It would be nice to get justice, but I don’t see it,” she said.

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