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News / Clark County News

Kevin Peterson wrongful death lawsuit against Clark County will move forward

County motion to dismiss case rejected; trial to begin Oct. 30 in federal court

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: September 29, 2023, 11:17am

A federal judge on Thursday denied Clark County’s motion to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Kevin Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies during a drug sting in October 2020.

Trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 30 in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Peterson’s mother and father and the woman with whom he shared a child are listed as the plaintiffs.

The complaint alleges wrongful death, negligence, excessive force and brutality, unreasonable seizure, and deprivation of familial relationships in Peterson’s Oct. 29, 2020, death. The lawsuit targets the county, as well as sheriff’s Detective Robert Anderson, who the complaint says fired the first shot at Peterson; Deputy Jonathan Feller, who also shot at Peterson; former Sheriff Chuck Atkins; and others who the suit alleges were negligent in Peterson’s slaying.

In her 20-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein denied the county’s summary judgment motion to dismiss all five causes of action in the case. She also denied Peterson’s family’s motion that the judge, not a jury, decide the excessive force claim against Anderson.

“It is the jury’s role to ascertain the facts by determining the credibility of the witnesses and weighing the available evidence and testimony,” Rothstein wrote.

Attorneys Mark Lindquist and Angus Lee, who are representing the plaintiffs, said the family was grateful for the judge’s ruling.

“They want justice for their son and for the community,” Lindquist said in a news release. “They trust jurors will do the right thing. Clark County, unfortunately, has not.”

The county on Friday declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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 set to take place.

In August 2021, an outside prosecutor’s office tasked with reviewing the shooting found it was justified. It determined Anderson, Feller and Detective Jeremy Brown, who also fired at Peterson, 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, 2021, stakeout of three suspects in a gun-trafficking investigation.)

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

Investigators concluded that 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 threaten nor point the gun at pursuing deputies, and the object seen in his hand was actually a cellphone; he had been using FaceTime with the mother of his child during the incident.

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

Also in dispute is whether Anderson shot Peterson in the back as he ran from the detective.

The lawsuit contends Peterson was shot three times in the back and that a fourth shot hit his chest after he fell to the ground and was trying to sit up.

“Lindquist and Lee alleged in their briefing that Clark County has a ‘cavalier approach to shootings,’ which the attorneys argued will ‘lead to future injuries and deaths,’” their news release reads.

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

About three months after Peterson’s shooting, a deputy fatally shot Jenoah Donald, a 30-year-old Black motorist, during a traffic stop, also in Hazel Dell. There is also a pending federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county for that shooting.

And in January 2022, Feller mistakenly shot and killed off-duty Vancouver police Officer Donald Sahota at Sahota’s home near Battle Ground during a manhunt for an armed robbery suspect.

In July 2021, a statewide panel of prosecutors examined Donald’s shooting and found the deputy who fired his weapon acted in “good faith.” In January, Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik determined that no criminal charges would be filed against Feller.