VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Nearly three years after Clark County deputies shot and killed 21-year-old Kevin Peterson Jr. during a drug sting, a federal judge denied motions to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit against the county on Thursday, ruling that the case will go before a jury.
“The court concludes that a reasonable jury could find that when Detective Anderson fatally shot Peterson, Peterson did not pose an immediate threat to anyone,” said Judge Barbara J. Rothstein about the wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Peterson’s family.
The Peterson family’s attorney says this ruling is a major victory for them and police accountability.
“Kevin the entire time was just trying to get away, and you cannot kill somebody just for trying to get away from the place,” said attorney Mark Lindquist. “Many of these lawsuits don’t make it past the stage of summary judgment because officers have a lot of protections under the law, which is understandable given the job. This shooting, however, was a bad shooting and this is going to go to a jury.”
Peterson had recently become a father when he was fatally shot four times in October 2020 as he fled from deputies with a gun.
The ruling states that “According to the testimony of witnesses and available video evidence, Peterson never threatened Detective Anderson either verbally or with a weapon. Three of Peterson’s four gunshot wounds were back to front.”
Lindquist told KOIN 6 News that this ruling is not only rare but also sends all five causes of action to trial, including wrongful death, negligence and excessive force.
“The law in Washington simply does not allow officers to shoot someone in the back that is running away. A person who’s running away does not pose an immediate danger to those officers,” he said.
Peterson’s death was the first in a string of deadly shootings by Clark County deputies, with Jenoah Donald dying after he was shot during a traffic stop in Hazel Dell just four months later.
A little less than a year later, Clark County Deputy Jonathan Feller, who was also one of the three deputies involved in Peterson’s shooting, shot and killed Vancouver Police Officer Donald Sahota, mistaking him for a robbery suspect in January 2022.
“Remarkably, none of the deputies involved in the shooting killing of Kevin Peterson Jr., or the shooting killing of Jenoah Donald, or the shooting and killing of Vancouver Police Officer Donald Sahota have been retrained or disciplined by CCSO. That’s a problem.”
Pierce County prosecutors determined in 2021 that the death of Peterson Jr. was “justified and lawful” and declined to charge the deputies who shot him. Lindquist says with this lawsuit, Peterson’s family is hoping to finally gain justice and accountability, saying they feel confident with the decision in a jury’s hands.
“One wrongful shooting is a tragedy but three wrongful shootings is a pattern that needs fixing. And Clark County needs to address some of these training issues and protocol issues that are resulting in bad shoots,” he said.
The trial is set to being Oct. 30.