The family of a 23-year-old Marshallese man who was killed by police earlier this year said officers did not take the time to fully understand the situation before they shot him while holding his 2-year-old nephew, according to a legal filing against the City of Spokane.
Peterson Kamo’s family filed tort claims against the city of Spokane and Spokane County last month, a necessary legal step before filing a lawsuit. The Kamos’ attorney, Bill Gilbert, said the family plans to file a lawsuit immediately if the city does not respond to the claim.
The Spokane Police Department said officers responded to reports of a domestic dispute just before 1 p.m. Jan. 24 at 2423 E. Desmet Ave.
When officers arrived they “encountered a male holding a knife to a small child,” and “several moments later” officers shot Kamo, according to the police department’s initial news release.
Kamo was holding his 2-year-old nephew when he was shot six times by police, Gilbert said, after watching body camera footage of the shooting.
Police indicated the toddler wasn’t injured in the incident but never said Kamo was holding the child when police shot him.
The two officers who shot Kamo, Corrigan Mohondro and Cpl. Brandon Lynch, were placed on administrative leave immediately after the shooting and the Washington State Patrol began investigating.
More details emerged about a week after the shooting when investigators filed a search warrant in Spokane County Superior Court.
Officers told investigators that Kamo held a knife to the child’s throat, according to the warrant.
Kamo retreated up the stairs with the toddler while officers tried to de-escalate the situation, according to the warrant. Officers were concerned Kamo might try to light a kerosene can and cause an explosion. Investigators said in a news release they found a knife next to Kamo’s body along with a can of liquid accelerant.
In the warrant, investigators indicate there was a language barrier between Kamo’s mother and the 911 operator. Brenda Kamo, Peterson’s mother, made a statement to the dispatcher “about a son being dead,” court documents indicated.
One of her sons was in fact dead. The week before the shooting, Brenda Kamo’s other son, Bruce, had died due to a medical condition and the family was grieving, the tort claim indicates.
Brenda and her husband, Lamoa Kamo, are from the Marshall Islands and speak little English, according to the claim. Peterson Kamo spoke English fluently.
The parents were at their home with Peterson Kamo along with Bruce’s wife and her young child. Peterson Kamo had been close with his brother and looked after the toddler like he was his own son, according to the claim.
Peterson Kamo was also watching his sister’s two young boys that morning.
The morning of the shooting, Peterson Kamo and his father were arguing because he wanted to take the family car for a drive. His father wouldn’t allow him to leave because Peterson Kamo was upset and grieving, the tort claims.
The argument escalated and the pair ended up in the driveway. Fearing that the argument would become physical, Brenda Kamo called 911, hoping police could come calm down the men. The dispatcher had a hard time understanding the situation due to the language barrier, according to the filing.
Peterson Kamo was the only adult at the home at the time who spoke English. Police said the neighbor called 911 as well, according to court documents.
When police arrived, Peterson Kamo had gone inside with his 2-year-old nephew and was heading upstairs to his bedroom, the family said.
When officers arrived, his parents were outside along with Kamo’s sister-in-law, her toddler and Kamo’s other nephew.
Officers did not talk to the parents or other family members at the scene to figure out what was going on, according to the claim.
“Unfortunately, no one bothered to take the time to find out what was really going on,” the tort reads.
The parents said officers went up the stairs single file, and there was some yelling and shooting. Then more officers arrived and entered the house.
Peterson Kamo was shot six times, four times in the left side of his back and twice in his midback, indicating Kamo was facing away from officer, the claim says.
The claim says the 2-year-old was near Kamo when he was shot, but Gilbert, who saw body camera footage of the incident after filing the claim, said Kamo was holding the boy.
The claim asks the family be compensated for its emotional distress, the loss of the only remaining male child in the family, and the fact that they observed the shooting death of their son for damages in the range of $11.7 million to $23 million.
WSP investigators never interviewed the Kamo family, Gilbert said. They also refused to meet with the family or allow them to view body camera footage of their son’s death. Gilbert, along with one family representative, was allowed by WSP to view some footage after the tort claim was filed, he said.
WSP concluded its investigation into the incident in mid-July. The results of the investigation were sent to the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office for review at that time.
The prosecutor’s office had not announced a determination on if the officers actions were legally justified as of Tuesday afternoon.
The prosecutor’s office has ruled officers’ actions justified in every shooting in the past two decades.
Last month, one of the officers who shot Peterson Kamo, Lynch, was named as one of the officers who shot and killed a man last month, after an hourslong standoff in downtown Spokane.
The prosecutor’s office also declined to meet with the Kamo family or answer any of their questions about the process, Gilbert said.
“It’s very frustrating for me that the prosecutors office wouldn’t sit down with the family,” Gilbert said.
Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell did not respond to request for comment.
Gilbert said the family plans to file a lawsuit against the city after the 60-day window for the city to respond has passed. County deputies were less involved in the shooting than the family initially thought, Gilbert said, and the family doesn’t plan to file suit against the county at this time.