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Kevin Peterson Jr.’s family files federal lawsuit against Clark County

“With deliberate indifference, Clark County has a policy, custom, and established practice of racial discrimination, bias and inadequate training”

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
4 Photos
Tammi Bell, foreground, mother of Kevin Peterson Jr., joins family members during a press conference as they announce a lawsuit against the Clark County Sheriff's office after the 21-year-old Black man was shot in 2020, as seen at the Aero Club on Thursday afternoon, May 26, 2022.
Tammi Bell, foreground, mother of Kevin Peterson Jr., joins family members during a press conference as they announce a lawsuit against the Clark County Sheriff's office after the 21-year-old Black man was shot in 2020, as seen at the Aero Club on Thursday afternoon, May 26, 2022. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The family of Kevin Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old Black man who was killed by Clark County sheriff’s deputies during a drug sting, filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county Thursday.

The 11-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, alleges wrongful death, negligence, unreasonable seizure, deprivation of familial relationships, and excessive force and brutality in his Oct. 29, 2020, death.

It names as co-defendants sheriff’s Detective Robert Anderson, who the complaint says fired the first shot at Peterson; Deputy Jonathan Feller, who also shot at Peterson; Sheriff Chuck Atkins; and 10 unnamed officers who the suit alleges were negligent in Peterson’s slaying.

Peterson’s mother, father and girlfriend, with whom he shared a child, are listed as the plaintiffs. The family had filed a tort claim against the county in March 2021 before filing the lawsuit, as required by state law. The federal lawsuit does not specify the damages sought.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the pending litigation Thursday afternoon.

Editor's Note: This video contains graphic content that may be upsetting to some readers. Video

The Peterson family’s attorney criticized the sheriff’s office at a Thursday press conference.

“In a relatively short period of time, Clark County sheriff’s deputies have shot and killed three people unnecessarily: Kevin Peterson, Jenoah Donald, and most recently, Officer (Donald) Sahota,” attorney Mark Lindquist said. “Had Clark County responded appropriately to the Kevin Peterson shooting, had there been discipline or re-training, Jenoah Donald and Officer Sahota might still be with us today.”

Three deputies fatally shot Peterson as he ran, armed with a handgun, from the scene of a planned sale of 50 Xanax pills. 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 Quality Inn where the drug sale was supposed to take place.

Outside report

In August, an outside prosecutor’s office tasked with reviewing the shooting found Anderson, Feller and Detective Jeremy Brown had acted in “good faith,” meaning a similarly situated law enforcement officer would have also used deadly force under the circumstances. (Brown was shot and killed during a July 23 stakeout of three suspects in a gun trafficking investigation.)

Lindquist, of Tacoma-based Herrmann Law Group, said Peterson’s family will get the justice and accountability they’re seeking through the civil suit.

Peterson’s mother, Tammi Bell, said Thursday marked 574 days without her son. She’s hoping the lawsuit will change the way officers are trained so that police shootings stop happening.

“We need more training and to realize that, people of color, we’re somebody, too,” Bell said. “We’ve got parents at home, too. We’re sad for them, too. I was sad when we lost Officer Brown, he was a part of this. I was sad about him and his family’s loss, too. We’re people, too, and we’re sad. We need change.”

Olivia Selto said it’s been difficult raising the couple’s daughter, now nearly 2 years old, by herself. She hopes to see police use more de-escalation tactics before they begin shooting.

The family is also pushing for the department to implement a body-worn camera program immediately.

Shooting details

The investigators’ report and the family’s lawsuit differ in their accounts of what happened.

Editor's note: This audio may be disturbing to some listeners. Kevin Peterson Jr. was fatally shot by three Clark County sheriff's deputies during an arranged drug deal Oct. 29 on Highway 99 in Hazel Dell. Deputies engage Peterson at about the 2:30 mark. Video

Investigators concluded Peterson had committed conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance and attempted assault on law enforcement when he pointed a loaded Glock 23 .40-caliber pistol at pursuing deputies.

The lawsuit contends that Peterson did not turn and point the gun at pursuing deputies, and the object seen in his hand was actually a cellphone.

In all, the 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 complaint states three of the shots were “back to front” as Peterson was running away. The fourth shot was to his chest after he fell to the ground and was trying to sit up.

The lawsuit also states Peterson did not say or do anything to threaten deputies.

The complaint also alleges the deputies didn’t have the permission of the business owners to use their property for the investigation and that they failed to ensure the safety of the surrounding public.

The family of Donald, an unarmed Black motorist who was shot and killed by deputies a few months later during  a traffic stop, has also filed a similar federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county through Lindquist and Herrmann Law Group.

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