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The fatal police shooting of Kevin Peterson Jr.: What’s known so far from court records, investigation accounts

This is the driveway leading from Northeast Highway 99 into the parking lot of the Quality Inn in the Hazel Dell area of Clark County. Kevin Peterson Jr. drove his Mercedes into the hotel parking lot to meet someone in an undercover drug sting.  (Oregonian)
This is the driveway leading from Northeast Highway 99 into the parking lot of the Quality Inn in the Hazel Dell area of Clark County. Kevin Peterson Jr. drove his Mercedes into the hotel parking lot to meet someone in an undercover drug sting. (Oregonian)
By Noelle Crombie The Oregonian

Many basic questions remain unanswered in the two weeks since Kevin E. Peterson Jr. was killed by Clark County deputies who shot at him as he ran from an undercover drug sting, including how many times Peterson was hit and where.

The Oct. 29 death of the 21-year-old man from Camas led to tense demonstrations in Vancouver decrying the police killing of another Black man, rattling many in the city and raising questions about the circumstances leading up to the shooting.

“The case is still under active investigation so details will be released when they are available,” Detective Sgt. Marc Langlois of the Longview Police Department, a spokesman for the investigation team, said in an email Thursday.

Investigators have said Peterson ran from drug detectives and pointed a gun at deputies who encountered him in a nearby bank parking lot but that Peterson hadn’t fired his gun as initial reports indicated.

The following timeline is drawn from a search warrant filed Nov. 6 in Clark County District Court and two statements – one Oct. 30 and one Nov. 10 – issued by the Southwest Washington Independent Investigative Response Team. Peterson’s partner, Olivia Selto, also answered questions about the night he died.

5:30 p.m. to 5:35 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29: Peterson leaves home, according to Selto.

5:50 p.m.: Peterson arrives at the Quality Inn motel, 7001 Northeast Highway 99, in Hazel Dell, according to the search warrant affidavit. Hazel Dell is an unincorporated Clark County community northwest of Vancouver.

Peterson is driving a dark blue 2012 two-door Mercedes with an Oregon license plate, the warrant says. (Selto said these details provided by police are inaccurate. She said the car is gray and is a four-door. “Our car seat base for our daughter was in there,” she said.)

Peterson is under investigation for conspiracy to deliver controlled substances, according to the warrant. He had been in contact with a confidential informant to sell 50 Xanax pills at the Quality Inn and provided the informant with a picture of the pills, the warrant says. Xanax is used to treat anxiety.

Members with the Clark County Regional Drug Task Force expect the meeting to happen around 5:30 p.m., according to the warrant.

The Quality Inn is located along a busy commercial road. A short driveway leads from the highway into the parking lot of the motel, a collection of nondescript beige buildings.

Task force detectives identify Peterson from his Snapchat profile, according to the regional investigation team.

They are in unmarked cars and activate emergency lights when they approach the Mercedes in the Quality Inn lot, the investigators say in the statement released Nov. 10. They’re wearing tactical vests “bearing law enforcement identification,” the statement says.

Two task force members – identified in the warrant only by their last names, Fields and Osorio – block Peterson’s car and try to arrest him, according to the warrant.

Peterson flees out the driver’s side door and runs around the north to northeast perimeter of the Quality Inn, the warrant says.

5:55 p.m.: Peterson calls Selto. She reports hearing Peterson running. She said they spoke by FaceTime.

“I could physically see his face as he was running when I answered the call,” she said.

The drug task force detectives order Peterson to stop but he runs and drops a gun while running, according to the Nov. 10 investigative statement.

Detectives see the gun and order Peterson not to pick it up, but he does and continues to flee, the statement says.

Detectives decide not to pursue Peterson because he has a gun; they radio other police units that Peterson is armed, the statement says.

Police radio traffic indicates Peterson is heading south “still carrying the handgun in his hand,” according to the statement.

Peterson is seen leaving the Quality Inn property through a tree line and continues south through the U.S. Bank parking lot at 6829 Northeast Highway 99, according to the statement.

The search warrant notes that Peterson leaves the motel property on the southwest side, heads into an adjoining car lot and runs south to the bank lot, where he is “met by law enforcement.”

The Nov. 10 investigative statement says Peterson continues to the southeast corner of the U.S. Bank property.

The statement lays out the following series of events based on interviews with the three Clark County deputies who fired on Peterson:

At the southeast corner, deputies “contact” Peterson and give commands for him to stop. He has a cellphone in his hand at that point, Deputy Robert Anderson later tells investigators.

Peterson turns north and is seen pulling the handgun out of his sweatshirt pocket. (It’s not clear from investigative statement who saw Peterson pull the gun out or if he still had his cellphone in his hand.)

Anderson orders Peterson to drop the gun but Peterson continues north.

Anderson fires his pistol at Peterson as Peterson continues north.

Anderson later tells investigators that he believed “Peterson was a threat to the public and to the containment units coming in from the north.”

Peterson points the handgun at Clark County Deputy Jonathan Feller while running north, Feller later tells investigators.

Feller then fires his pistol at Peterson.

U.S. Bank video shows Peterson fall, then sit up and point his handgun. (The Oregonian hasn’t been able to independently review the video.)

Peterson is pointing the gun at Clark County Deputy Jeremy Brown, deputies later tell investigators.

Brown and Anderson fire at Peterson.

Brown tells investigators that Peterson was pointing the handgun at him when he fired at Peterson.

Brown “did not know if he had been shot,” according to the statement. (It’s not clear what that means; a team spokesman has declined to answer questions.)

Deputies tell Peterson to drop the gun.

Peterson eventually sets the gun down and continues “to make some movements.”

Selto said she hears shots fired over the open phone line.

She said she “never heard a single shot on its own. The gunshots I heard were one volley of multiple shots.”

A witness who wanted to be identified only by his first name, Dan, because he was concerned about backlash from the public, said he saw police cars speed into the bank parking lot. Police then exit their cars with guns drawn and quickly fire, according to his account. The man who was later identified as Peterson “looked really scared” as police pull up. He appears to have his hands in his pockets, the witness said.

Selto hears Peterson collapse to the ground, she said. She tells him she loves him. He tells her he loves her. The line goes quiet.

Selto says in all she heard more than 15 gunshots.

5:56 p.m.: An ambulance is sent to the scene on a report of a person with a gunshot wound, dispatch audio shows.

Deputies call for medical aid as well as additional units to approach Peterson with a shield because his gun is within reach, according to the investigative statement.

Deputies give Peterson first aid about five minutes after the shooting, the statement says.

6:04 p.m.: One of the law enforcement officials picks up Peterson’s cellphone, according to Selto. She sees “them looking at me” on the FaceTime call, she says, and captures a screenshot of the men looking at her.

Peterson’s phone then goes dead, Selto says. She never hears an ambulance or a siren, she says.

Peterson is found with an iPhone and a .40-caliber Glock 23 semiautomatic handgun, according to the investigative statement.

Latest investigate team findings

Investigators found one round was chambered in Peterson’s gun and one round was missing from the magazine, according to the Nov. 10 statement.

“At this time, detectives do not have evidence that Peterson fired the handgun while in the U.S. Bank lot, based on involved deputy interviews,” the statement says. Investigators also found no .40-caliber casings at the scene, according to the statement.

Investigators discovered several “pre-packaged amounts of pills that were presumptively identified as Xanax” after a search of Peterson’s car, according to the statement.

A trace on Peterson’s gun by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tracked it to one of Peterson’s relatives, who sold it to him in August, the statement says. Investigators didn’t identify the relative.

Evolving narrative

Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said on Oct. 30, the day after the shooting, that preliminary information indicated Peterson ran to the bank parking lot and “reportedly fired his weapon at deputies” and “the deputies returned fire and the subject was tragically killed.”

Atkins noted that Washington state law requires an independent investigation. “It is not my investigation and that means I am waiting along with you to learn about much of the details,” he said in a prepared statement.

Later, on Oct. 30, a spokesman for the investigative team released a statement saying Peterson “produced a handgun and the officers backed off.” Then “a short time later” Peterson encountered three Clark County deputies who “all discharged their pistols.”

The statement doesn’t address if Peterson pointed the gun or fired at the deputies. It says the Glock was found near Peterson and the three deputies were placed on administrative leave, a standard practice in fatal shootings by police.

Investigators named Clark County Detective Jeremy Brown, 46, who has worked 14 years for the Sheriff’s Office; Detective Robert Anderson, 42, who has worked 13 years at the Sheriff’s Office; and Deputy Jonathan Feller, 46, has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 2½ years and did police work for 14 years in South Dakota.

The search warrant affidavit indicates Peterson appeared to have fired his gun.

“Police radio traffic, at the time of the incident, stated that Mr. Peterson had fired two rounds from his firearm, at officers in the parking lot,” the warrant says. “Police radio traffic stated that officers returned fire, striking Peterson. Peterson was pronounced dead at the scene.”

A witness, Trika Cook, “stated she heard two gunshots that sounded different before a volley of shots which sounded the same had occurred,” according to the warrant.

The warrant also notes that “Peterson was later viewed from the U.S. Bank camera pointing what appeared to be a firearm in the direction of police.”

It says the Glock magazine “was documented as having two less rounds than at capacity.”

“Drug paraphernalia, including a capped needle and bundles of possible narcotics, were also documented to have been found in the path of which Peterson fled on foot,” the warrant says.

Asked Thursday about the discrepancy between the sheriff’s earlier assertion that Peterson had fired at police and the latest revelations by investigators that he didn’t fire at police, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Atkins “stands behind his initial statement as given with the information he was provided at the time.”

Ben Crump, a high-profile civil rights attorney who represents the family of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis police earlier this year, is representing Peterson’s family. He hasn’t responded to emails seeking comment. After investigators this week said Peterson didn’t fire on police, Crump tweeted about the contradictory accounts from law enforcement.

“How can we believe anything they claim happened during Kevin’s final minutes alive,” Crump tweeted.

Autopsy

The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Peterson’s death a homicide and said he died from multiple gunshot wounds. Marissa Armstrong, a county spokeswoman, has said the office could not publicly disclose the number of times Peterson was shot or where.

“We are not providing additional details beyond what is included on the death certificate,” she said in an email Thursday to the Oregonian/OregonLive. “The medical examiner has not yet completed the death investigation, and the autopsy report is not complete.”

Criminal review

Tony Golik, the prosecuting attorney for Clark County, said a new Washington law, Initiative 940, requires outside law enforcement agencies to investigate fatal shootings by police. He said once the Peterson investigation is complete, it will be turned over to his office for a “criminal review,” where prosecutors will make the determination about whether a crime was committed.

Golik said he plans to ask another Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in Washington to conduct that review to ensure impartiality.

“I have made this clear over and over that it serves everyone’s interest to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make sure the investigation is truly independent and that the prosecutorial review is also truly independent,” Golik said. “That is best for everybody: the community, the survivors, the involved officers.”

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