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News / Northwest

Body camera shows man had knife and toddler in his hands seconds before police shot and killed him in January

By Emma Epperly, The Spokesman-Review
Published: October 28, 2022, 8:46am

SPOKANE — A 23-year-old Marshallese man had a knife and toddler in his hands seconds before police shot and killed him in January, body camera footage released Thursday shows.

The Spokane Police Department released the footage in an effort to “provide transparency to the public,” Capt.Tom Hendren said at a news conference Thursday morning.

The release of the footage comes as Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Haskell reviews the case following an investigation into the shooting by the Washington State Patrol.

In September, Peterson Kamo’s family filed a tort claim against the city alleging police didn’t take time to fully understand the situation before they shot him. The family’s attorney, Bill Gilbert, said Thursday he has hired experts to review the unredacted body camera footage and to look at how the officers could have deescalated the situation at an organizational level.

On Jan. 24, officers responded to a call classified as “trouble unknown,” Hendren said. A caller had told dispatchers that their neighbor, who didn’t speak much English, came to her door crying and saying her son was dead.

Officers were told there was an unknown assault and that a 24-year-old Pacific Islander man was trying to leave in an SUV, Hendren said. The man backed into another vehicle then went into the house, the caller reported.

Body camera footage shows Officer Corrigan Mohondro arriving and casually walking up to the home with Sgt. Kevin Vaughn.

“What is happening?” Mohondro asks his co-worker.

Then Kamo’s mother, Brenda Kamo, can be heard yelling.

“Please hurry up, I need help,” she said.

Then again, “Can you guys hurry up?”

“My son (unintelligible) the baby and he said he’s going to kill the baby and himself,” she said.

At that point, Mohondro is looking toward the house, where, according to the statement he gave to investigators read by Hendren, he saw Peterson Kamo holding a knife to his 2-year-old nephew’s throat.

“I saw him suddenly raise a knife from down at his side and point it toward the child and start yelling,” Mohondro wrote.

What Mohondro says he saw cannot be seen on body camera footage, Hendren said.

Mohondro pulled out his sidearm and rushed toward the house.

“I’m going to take it. He’s got a knife to the baby,” he yelled. “He’s got a knife to the baby.”

He then yelled for a rifle as other officers arrive to the townhouse. Mohondro said he saw Kamo pick up a can of Coleman camping fuel as he went up the stairs.

Officers crowded into the home’s front entrance that looks directly up a flight of stairs. Kamo can be seen partially peaking over the top of the stairs.

“Let the baby go,” Mohondro yelled. “Sir, let the baby go now.”

“… don’t come up here,” Kamo said. “Hey, I never wanted any of this to happen, man.”

Kamo tells the officers the child is all right.

“Why are you trying to shoot me?” Kamo said. “If you shoot me, you going to hit him too.”

Commotion grows downstairs as more officers arrive while Mohondro continues talking to Kamo.

“We got to see you to know the baby is OK, to talk,” Mohondro said.

“He’s all right,” Kamo responds.

“I’ve got my hands up, man. I got nothing on me,” Kamo said as he holds one hand over the landing.

“Look, I’m not holding nothing, man,” Kamo said. “Why do you got guns pointed at me?”

“Because, man, you had a knife pointed at the baby,” Mohondro replied.

“I got no knife pointed at him,” Kamo said.

The two continue going back and forth as officers, including Cpl. Brandon Lynch, a SWAT team member who arrived with his rifle, discuss what to do. Lynch is designated as the officer to shoot Kamo if the hostage situation continues. Hendren said officers likely made this decision because of Lynch’s training on the SWAT team and because he brought his rifle from the patrol car.

Some officers want to go up the stairs while one officer says “hey, relax, man, relax” to the fellow officers. Then someone yells to Kamo that if he lets the baby go, the guns will go away.

Officers again push to go up the stairs. Someone said Kamo had poured the fuel from the can onto the carpet. Then someone else said Kamo was going to light it on fire.

That’s when Kamo responds.

“Y’all coming in? Naw, naw, naw, naw, naw, y’all are freaking me out right now,” Kamo said in objection. “As soon as I hear footsteps I’m (unintelligible).”

Mohondro and Lynch push up the stairs toward Kamo, who is standing at the top. In Lynch’s body camera footage, a silver knife can be seen in Kamo’s hand close to the baby.

“I could clearly see a silver knife in the male’s right hand,” Lynch wrote in his statement to investigators. “The knife was pointed up like he was getting ready to strike at any moment.”

Lynch fired one shot, which didn’t hit Kamo, as he went up the stairs.

Kamo turned as Mohondro yelled for him to drop the knife. Seconds later, both Mohondro and Lynch fired again, this time hitting Kamo.

The 23-year-old fell to the ground, releasing the toddler.

Officers immediately began first aid, but Kamo was pronounced dead at the scene.

In their lawsuit, Kamo’s family said the 23-year-old and his father were having a grief-fueled argument that morning, just days after Kamo’s brother Lamoa Kamo died.

Officers did not spend much time talking with the family before rushing into the house, which the family said led police to misinterpret the situation.

Gilbert said in September that WSP investigators never interviewed the Kamo family and refused to meet with them.

WSP concluded its investigation in mid-July, and the results were sent to the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office for review. The case remained under review as of Thursday, Haskell said.

“The officers let the scene control them instead of them controlling the scene,” Gilbert, a former law enforcement officer himself, said. “An escalated officer has to deescalate themselves before they can deescalate the situation.”

Gilbert said there was no way for Kamo to start a fire at the top of the stairs because no lighter or matches were found nearby, and that investigators didn’t collect the gas can or carpet as evidence.

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Hendren said he didn’t know if there was actually fuel in the can or if there was evidence Kamo poured fuel on the floor. He said he limited his review of the case to the officer’s actions.

Hendren said Thursday he was not making a judgement on the officers’ actions, just releasing the footage to show the public what officers knew at the time of the shooting.

In the unredacted footage, Gilbert said Kamo can be seen dropping the knife, in response to officer commands, at the top of the stairs after Lynch fired his first shot.

“They don’t give him time to respond before they’re killing him,” Gilbert said.

The family hopes to look at the shooting and investigative file to see if there was a way it could have been prevented, Gilbert said. They are also awaiting the prosecutor’s office ruling on whether the officers’ actions were justified.

The prosecutor’s office has not found fault with officers’ use of deadly force in more than 20 years.

Lynch has shot four people since he was hired at SPD. In 2016, he and officer Chris LeQuire shot and killed a man outside House of Charity. In 2021, Lynch was among six officers who shot and killed a man who fired at them after police tried to stop his vehicle in downtown Spokane.

In August, Lynch was named as one of the officers who shot and killed a man after an hourslong standoff in downtown Spokane.

The police department did not notify the Kamo family they planned to release the body camera footage Thursday, something Gilbert said was upsetting.

The department has had no interaction with the family because they weren’t the investigating agency, said Cpl. Nick Briggs, a Spokane Police Department spokesman. The pending litigation against the department also is a factor, Briggs said.

Thursday’s news conference was scheduled after multiple public records requests for the footage were completed, Hendren added. He also noted the redactions in the video were done in part to preserve the privacy of the family.

“At the end of the day, whether you, you know, judge whether the officers are justified or not, for the family, they lost a loved one,” Hendren said. “This was a traumatic event. This was a horrible situation.”