A reserve Stevens County sheriff’s deputy with eight months’ experience fired the shot that killed a despondent 66-year-old man last week.
Spokane County investigators, who are in charge of the inquiry, said Thursday that Reserve Deputy Nick Wolfe and five-year veteran Deputy Travis Frizzell responded to a 911 call in the same car at about 10:50 p.m. last Friday. Officials previously described it as a “suicidal” call from John E. Peterson, a Vietnam veteran who had recently moved to Stevens County from Minnesota.
When the deputies arrived at 3675 Deer Creek Road in Valley, Wash., they found Peterson talking on the phone to a 911 dispatcher with a telephone in one hand and a gun in the other, Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Craig Chamberlin said.
“Deputy Frizzell and Wolfe identified themselves to Peterson immediately and Deputy Frizzell proceeded to give commands to Peterson,” Chamberlin said. “Peterson did not follow Deputy Frizzell’s commands, turned toward Reserve Deputy Wolfe and pointed a firearm at him.”
Wolfe then fired one round that killed Peterson. Most of the confrontation was recorded on the 911 recording, but the Stevens County sheriff’s office denied a request by The Spokesman-Review to obtain a copy, saying the case remains under investigation.
The new details released Thursday brought a strong reaction from Peterson’s family, who on Wednesday said Peterson had a history of making calls to law enforcement in Minnesota whenever he became upset or depressed. Doug Kari, family spokesman, said Peterson had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following his service as a Navy medic.
Kari and several family members met for more than an hour Wednesday with Spokane County sheriff’s detectives Mike Drapeau and Doug Marske, who said it would take months to go through interviews, analyze evidence and obtain toxicology results, Kari said.
“Yesterday they couldn’t tell us what happened because they were still in the early stages of the investigation,” he said. “Today, only a matter of hours later, they have already made up their minds and announced it to the world.”
The family also objected to Spokane County sheriff’s officials waiting 3 1/2 days to interview Wolfe and Frizzell. Kari said he took a copy of the officer-involved shooting protocol that clearly calls for segregating the officers and interviewing witness officers on tape as soon as possible.
Chamberlin said the delay in interviewing the deputies was simply a scheduling matter.
“Resourcewise, that was the best time for our investigators as well as the deputies involved,” he said.
Chamberlin said investigators do not work under the belief that deputies remember more about the incident if they are interviewed immediately following an incident.
“That may be a perception. But based on the officer-involved shootings we have investigated, we get more accurate information if we give them one sleep cycle,” he said.
Those explanations did nothing to assuage the concerns of the family, Kari said.
“We will undertake our own investigation,” he said, “and we won’t stop until we know the truth.”