Law enforcement officials offered unclear accounts Friday of what led Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputies to shoot and kill a Black man along Highway 99 the night before.
At an abrupt press conference, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said Kevin Peterson Jr., whom deputies shot and killed less than 24 hours prior, was a subject in a drug investigation and fired a gun at deputies who chased him.
Hours after the press conference, a separate team of officers investigating the shooting did not say Peterson fired a gun at police. While the Southwest Washington Independent Investigative Response Team said Peterson had a gun and was confronted by officers with the Regional Drug Task Force in the parking lot of the Quality Inn, they said the officers who initially contacted the 21-year-old “backed off” as he fled.
“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,” the independent investigators said in a statement Friday.
Atkins described a different scene as he spoke to reporters.
“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 at the 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.”
Specifics of the shooting, such as which deputies killed Peterson or how many shots they fired, remain unclear. The team investigating the shooting said all three deputies involved had been placed on leave, though their names had not been released by Friday evening.
The vague details around the incident have been a consistent theme since Thursday, when hours passed between the time of the shooting and when police reported the incident to the public. Police did not initially report Peterson had been killed.
Members of Peterson’s family said they have been consistently left in the dark, as well. Kevin Peterson Sr. and Kim Peterson said they arrived to the scene shortly after 6 p.m., only to spend the next 12 hours waiting to confirm if the man killed was their son.
“He was laid out on the ground, back behind the bank, 12 hours,” said the elder Peterson.
“They wouldn’t even tell us a name,” said Kim Peterson, the young man’s stepmother. “We’re just standing out here and you won’t even let his dad walk back there to make sure? And they’re like, ‘No, it’s a crime scene.'"
“So we stood there until 5:30 in the morning, until they let us go see him to even confirm that it was him," she added.
Friday’s press conference lasted less than five minutes. The sheriff’s office notified press before the conference that no questions would be taken. Atkins only answered a single question about vigils for Peterson planned for Friday evening.
No details of the investigation have been relayed to the family, either, they said. A law enforcement liaison is supposed to be designated to the family. They said Atkins' conference was the first they heard any information.
“They said they were going to send it in an email for us to review it before they spoke on it, and we never received nothing,” Kim Peterson said.
Under Washington state law, Peterson’s killing spurred the independent investigation underway. It’s led by an ad hoc team pulled from other agencies in Clark and Skamania counties. Atkins said he is committed to ensuring there is a “complete, thorough, independent determination of what happened, how it happened, and what can be learned from this incident.”
The Camas Police Department will lead the independent investigation, the sheriff’s office said. A representative with Clark County medical examiner’s office told OPB it will soon release more information.
Shortly after the shooting Thursday night, protesters began to appear, prompting officers who had cordoned off the area along Highway 99 to wear heavier tactical gear and reposition law enforcement vehicles to block the scene. A standoff between protesters and police continued well into early Friday morning.
Several shouted that police killed another Black man, alluding to the disproportionate amount of deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police that have sparked protests across the country this year.
A Vancouver man at the scene, who declined to identify himself, said police shootings “shouldn’t fucking fly anywhere.”
“I know these cops, I’m not surprised,” the man said, before naming two other people of color shot and killed by police in recent years: Clayton Joseph and Carlos Hunter. “Both of them shot by police here in Vancouver. It’s not the first time. Hopefully, it’s the last time. Just, I’m mad.”
A person who identified himself only as “Leo” and said he was with the protest group Black Unity PDX said he drove from Portland to Vancouver to protest police at the shooting scene. Standing on the road, feet from the fleet of law enforcement SUVs, Leo called the event “devastating.”
“If I can do one thing tonight, it would be to make all of the people on the other side of this caution tape realize that they’re part of something that’s doing exactly what its job is, and that is being repressive and oppressive of people — of my people,” he said.