Almost two years ago, an outside prosecutor ruled three Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputies acted justifiably in shooting and killing 21-year-old Kevin Peterson Jr. in 2020.
The family’s attorneys have spent months building a wrongful death lawsuit, and are now calling the shooting review process flawed. They mainly argue that investigators weren’t thorough, and the legal review had undisclosed conflicts of interest.
A new investigation is needed, according attorneys Mark Lindquist and Angus Lee. In a letter delivered Thursday, they urged Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik to order a new investigation.
“What’s important is a professional, thorough, and objective investigation and review, regardless of the result,” the attorneys wrote in the letter, obtained by OPB.
Golik told OPB he doesn’t plan to do that. In an interview, he said the attorneys have other options: ask the Washington attorney general or Washington state’s new Office of Independent Investigations.
“Those are avenues that are both open to them if they want,” Golik said. “I plan to take no additional action based on this letter. And I have no further comment on this letter.”
Peterson died Oct. 29, 2020, during an attempted drug sting. Police shot him in a parking lot while he was running away from deputies. Three Clark County deputies fired a combined 34 shots.
The fatal shooting was among the first to be investigated under a new, voter-passed measure that attempted to make police shooting investigations more independent. The law requires that whenever law enforcement use deadly force, the instance is investigated by an outside agency.
After Peterson’s death, Clark County law enforcement handed the reins over to a patchwork from Cowlitz County – just north on Interstate 5.
Golik, likewise, later tasked an outside prosecutor to review the case once completed. Such reviews look at whether the police broke any laws in the shooting. On Aug. 16, 2021, the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office ruled Peterson’s shooting justified.
The new letter casts doubt on both the investigation and review. The doubts stem from information unearthed during the family’s civil lawsuit against Clark County over Peterson’s death.
According to the letter, the outside investigators didn’t take the case seriously enough. The attorneys wrote that a Cowlitz County investigator recently said under oath that they “didn’t do any investigating” after taking over the case.
Lindquist, the family’s attorney, described the investigation as “incomplete.”
Troy Brightbill, the chief criminal deputy of Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office who spearheaded the investigation, called the letter “an exercise in creative writing.” He said investigators did “an incredibly thorough investigation.”
“This was easily a month out of my life,” Brightbill said. Investigators, he said, took several actions including including pulling surveillance footage from nearby businesses, executing search warrants on Peterson’s car, phone and social media accounts and interviewing witnesses.
To Lindquist, however, the investigators didn’t look closely enough at the beat-by-beat moments before the killing.
That night, Peterson fled a drug task force that tried to pin his car in the parking lot of a budget hotel outside Vancouver. While running, he made a video call to his girlfriend. Peterson was also armed, as deputies noted.
Deputies intercepted Peterson next door at the parking lot of a shuttered bank. In interviews, they recalled he was holding a phone. As deputies got closer with guns drawn, Peterson reversed course and ran.
Det. Robert Anderson shot first. Deputy Jon Feller then fired, as well.
Peterson fell to the ground, footage shows, and then sat up and raised an object in his hand. The two deputies opened fire again and a third – Det. Jeremy Brown – shot as well.
Lindquist argued that investigators failed to examine the footage closely enough and never showed whether Peterson endangered the deputies.
A forensic analyst hired by the attorneys reportedly found that Peterson’s hand “was consistent with a cell phone.” Peterson’s girlfriend has also corroborated that, on the video call, she saw Peterson raise the phone, the letter said.
“The investigation doesn’t end when the officers collect the video surveillance evidence. The next obvious step is to have a forensic investigator analyze the evidence,” Lindquist said.
Likewise, Lindquist argued that the Pierce County Prosecutor’s review made assumptions about what danger Peterson posed. That review said the deputies only fired until after “Peterson actually used the gun to threaten” them.
“The primary factual claim that prosecutor relied upon to decline charges is simply not true,” the letter said.
The attorneys also suggest Pierce County shouldn’t have reviewed the case in the first place. The same Seattle law firm represents Clark County, Pierce County and some of the investigating police agencies, the attorneys said.
“To put it as plainly as possible, the defendant officers, the officers who were supposed to be investigating the defendant officers, and the prosecutor who was supposed to do an objective review, were all represented by the same lawyers and appear to be on the same team protecting each other,” the attorneys wrote.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mary Robnett did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the law firm, Keating, Bucklin & McCormack.
When asked if government entities having the same attorneys constituted a conflict, Golik did not answer. He told OPB that he didn’t know when he asked Pierce County that they had the same attorneys.
“I certainly do not ask other prosecutors’ offices in general what civil cases they might have going or what attorneys they might have in unrelated civil cases,” he said. “That’s not something I would generally do.”
Lindquist said he was not surprised Golik declined to order a new investigation, and is considering whether to ask the attorney general and the new independent investigative office to get involved.