Third Time is a Pattern
In 18 months Clark County Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed three people unnecessarily, including an off-duty police officer.
One unnecessary killing is a tragedy. Three unnecessary killings is a pattern that needs fixing.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
I’ve filed two wrongful death lawsuits for HLG against Clark County in two different officer-involved shootings. On October 29, 2020, Kevin Peterson Jr. was shot and killed by Clark County Sheriff’s Deputies as he ran away from a drug sting operation. On February 4, 2021, Clark County Sheriff’s Deputies shot and killed an unarmed motorist, Jenoah Donald, after an illegal pre-textual stop.
Then, in January of 2022, one of the deputies who needlessly shot at Kevin Peterson shot and killed an off-duty Vancouver Police Officer, apparently mistaking him for a criminal suspect.
Accumulating evidence shows, as I wrote in the lawsuits, “Clark County has a policy, custom, and established practice of failing to supervise and train its officers to use deadly force only as a last resort.”
There have been numerous protests and local and national media attention concerning the Clark County Sheriff’s Department’s unwarranted use of deadly force.
Kevin Peterson Jr.
Like his father, Kevin Peterson Jr. played football for Union High School in Vancouver, Clark County. At the time of his death, he was a 21 years old. He was a popular kid with no criminal record.
Clark County Sheriff’s Deputies set up a sting to arrest Kevin for allegedly agreeing to sell 50 Xanax pills to an informant. Deputies set up the potentially dangerous operation in the parking lot of a Quality Inn on or about October 29, 2020, during peak traffic hours of 5:00 and 6:00 pm. Amazingly, deputies did not have the permission of the open business to use their property. Additionally, deputies did not take steps to insure the safety of the surrounding public.
At some point, Kevin realized he had been set up. His car was blocked in by deputies. He opened his door and ran. In his pockets were a cell phone and a gun. Something fell out of his pocket, but he picked it back up and kept running.
He did not say or do anything threatening to surrounding deputies. The deputies did not attempt to tackle or shoot him.
After running out of the Quality Inn parking lot, Kevin cut through some property, and then crossed into a U.S. Bank parking lot. Though the bank branch was closed, he was picked up on surveillance video. He can be seen on video walking with a cell phone as he FaceTimes his girlfriend Olivia.
She could tell he was scared and panicked. He was still trying to evade the deputies. Suddenly he spotted deputies arriving in front of him. He turned and ran.
“They’re shooting at me,” he told Olivia.
Hit by shots from behind, he fell. He sat up on the concrete and pointed his cellphone in the direction of the officers to show Olivia what was happening. There was another volley of shots. He went back down.
Deputies fired 34 rounds in two volleys. Three rounds hit Kevin as he was running away. One hit him in the chest when he sat up. He died at the scene from the gunshot wounds.
Detective Robert Anderson was the first to shoot. In a recorded interview given eight days after the killing, Detective Anderson, accompanied by a lawyer, explained why he shot a suspect who was running away. “I kinda just drew a line in the sand and I was – I said, ‘I’ve given suspect enough commands. If he takes another step, I’m gonna shoot him.’ Um, he continued to run. I started shooting.”
Deputy Jonathan Feller was the second officer to shoot at Mr. Peterson. Deputy Fuller, unlike Detective Anderson, was not a part of the drug task force. He was on patrol when he heard radio traffic referring to a “black male with a gun running south on Highway 99.” Deputy Feller took it upon himself to turn around and race full lights and sirens toward the action.
In a recorded interview given 11 days after the killing, Deputy Feller, accompanied by a lawyer, said he stepped out of his vehicle at the scene and, “I immediately drew my – my handgun …” He pointed his gun at Mr. Peterson and began yelling commands to stop running.
Deputy Feller fired his weapon within seconds of exiting his vehicle and before he had a tactical understanding of the situation.
In an eerily similar scenario a year later, Deputy Feller arrived at a scene and started shooting within four seconds. This time he shot and killed Vancouver Police Officer Donald Sohata.
After the Peterson killing, Clark County did not terminate, discipline, or even re-train Deputy Feller. Had the county done so, Officer Sohata would likely still be alive.
About three months after Kevin’s death, Jenoah Donald was pulled over in what’s known as a “pretextual stop,” where an officer uses a pretext to pull someone over when the officer lacks probable cause. A “defective rear light” was the pretext.
Two deputies were involved in the stop. One of the deputies was a rookie. Jenoah was cooperating with the senior deputy who did not see any weapons in Jenoah’s car. The rookie deputy, however, mistakenly thought she saw a weapon and freaked out.
From there, the deputies made numerous mistakes, demonstrating either a lack of training or lack of understanding. When Jenoah did not immediately exit the vehicle, the senior deputy made the inexplicable and dangerous error of immediately trying to drag Jenoah out of the car.
Jenoah was on the autism spectrum, and the deputies made no effort to communicate with him. The senior deputy even admits punching Jenoah in the nose without provocation.
Jenoah passively resisted the assault and somehow the car was bumped into gear and rolled forward. The senior deputy stepped back out of the car, pulled his gun, and shot at Jenoah twice. The second round hit Jenoah in the side of the head. He died a week later.
Jenoah’s wrongful death case, like Kevin Peterson’s case, received wide media attention, including Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Oregonian, the Columbian, The New York Times, and local television. Unfortunately, it’s a textbook example of what happens when officers over react and unnecessarily escalate a situation.
Clark County Needs Change
Law enforcement officers have a challenging job. It’s not for everyone. It requires training, discipline, people skills, and a true spirit of public service. I’ve known many officers who have these traits. Those who do not should look for another line of work.
Clark County is failing the community by not properly training officers in de-escalation, non-lethal tactics, decision-making, behavioral health issues, and the use of deadly force only as a last resort. After killing Jenoah Donald, Kevin Peterson, and Officer Sahota, the Clark County Sheriff’s Department has three strikes.
Sometimes I’m asked why the deputies aren’t facing criminal charges. The answer is that criminal and civil standards are dramatically different. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, a plaintiff’s attorney only needs to prove it’s more likely than not the defendant was negligent.
When asked by a reporters what she hoped for from the lawsuits, a victim family member said, “One of my hopes is that the truth and justice comes out, people are held accountable, things change.”
That’s our plan.
Career Criminals Off Our Streets
High Priority Offender Program Reduces Crime
By Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, first published in The Tacoma Weekly
He began his criminal career with a burglary in 2000. Before he turned 40, he racked up 16 felony convictions. Though he was versatile – stealing cars, committing identify theft and dabbling in drugs – burglary remained his crime of choice.
This year he went on a short crime spree, which included yet another burglary. Our new data-driven system identified him as a High Priority Offender (HPO) based on his conduct and history. He was charged, convicted and recently sentenced to several years in prison.
This was our 500th HPO case.
Your Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office is focusing resources on the small percentage of criminals who are committing a large percentage of the crimes. Some call them career criminals; we call them high priority offenders.
In almost every context, it’s a small group of bad actors causing most of the problems. This is certainly true in the world of criminal justice. That’s not new; that’s common sense. What is new is how our office uses data and technology to identify the worst offenders – the career criminals – and get them off our streets.
As part of our ongoing effort to keep our community safe, we began the HPO program in 2015. We studied similar data-driven programs on the East Coast, particularly in New York, and adapted the techniques for Pierce County. Consistent with the crime-fighting innovation we have demonstrated with our Elder Abuse Unit and gang sweeps, we are the first on the West Coast to implement this program.
The HPO program is based on three elements of criminality: rate, persistence and dangerousness. As a result, the focus is on those offenders who most impact our community.
Investigator Gene Miller, a former Tacoma Police Department detective, manages the data. As your prosecutor, I worked with Detective Miller on homicide cases and on the Tacoma Mall shooting. I have high confidence in him and in our program. We are not only reducing crime in our community, we are reducing bias in the system, because data is objective.
My confidence and enthusiasm for the program are shared by our partners in law enforcement. Using data to focus resources and improve public safety is cost-effective and forward-thinking.
High priority offenders average 11 prior felony convictions and more than three prior trips to prison. After conviction as a HPO, the individual serves a sentence that is nearly four times greater than the average sentence in Washington. And when you send a career criminal to prison, you prevent dozens of future crimes.
Why do we need this program when Washington has a three-strikes law? Because not all felonies are strikes. In fact, only “most serious offenses” are strikes. HPO applies to burglaries and other crimes that do not qualify as strike offenses, but still impact victims and our community.
Our future plan is to build on the success of this program by instituting a notification system. We want high priority offenders to know they have been identified. Our goal is to end their criminal careers. They can go to prison, or they can change careers. Either way, our community is safer.
Pierce County is booming. Population is up, crime is down. In fact, Felony crimes are down 18% since I became your Prosecutor. While crime is going up in Seattle and in Washington State, crime is going down in Pierce County. HPO program is one of the reasons.
Have a Pleasant New Year
Have a Pleasant New Year
By our Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, first published in The Tacoma Weekly
“Years ago, my mother used to say to me, ‘In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”
I’m quoting Elwood P. Dowd, the hero of “Harvey.” This classic holiday movie starring Jimmy Stewart is about a dipsomaniac and an invisible, six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall rabbit. Elwood P. Dowd says things like, “I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I won out over it.”
This is not the sort of stuff you would expect a serious candidate to quote on his Facebook page, but I know a candidate who did.
The candidate, Mark Roe, was a friend of mine in college. We bummed around Europe together in the early ’80s. He was appointed as Snohomish County Prosecutor in December of ’09 and ran for election in ’10. I was appointed as Pierce County Prosecutor in September ’09 and was also on the ballot in ‘10.
We didn’t plan this.
That campaign season, we talked a lot. I probably should have advised Roe against quoting an eccentric tippler, but I didn’t. I thought it was so original for a political campaign, and so authentic, that it worked.
Roe’s faithfulness to pleasantness wavered only once that I know of during his campaign. He called to say, “My opponents keep lying about me.”
Welcome to the club, I almost said.
Instead, I advised him to stick with his Elwood P. Dowd philosophy of pleasant. Roe did. He found campaign Zen and won easily.
In Roe’s younger years, he was concerned with demonstrating how smart he was. Unlike most people who do this, Roe truly is smart. He is so smart that he figured out that pleasant is more important.
I had this epiphany later in life than Roe. Timing is everything, as they say, and I was open to the concept in the summer of 2010. The death of my brother in June and the birth of my daughter in August was a yin-yang wake-up call.
Life is short and uncertain.
After serving three terms, one partial and two full, Roe and I are both up for our fourth term in 2018. Roe, however, is not running. The reality of public service may not be as pleasant as it once was, but I cannot say to what degree this affected Roe’s decision to retire. I can say I still love serving. Even the things about the job I don’t like, I still love.
When I need the philosophy of pleasantness affirmed, I turn to Marcus Aurelius, my favorite stoic. “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness — all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and evil.” He goes on to charitably note that none of these things can injure him because we are all brothers and he cannot be angry with his brethren.
In other words, be relentlessly pleasant.
I have long been into New Year’s resolutions. Historically, my resolutions were a typical laundry list: read more books, quit watching bad movies, appreciate beauty, use sunscreen, and so on.
In my thirties my resolutions were about the length of “The Great Gatsby,” which is short for a novel but long for a to-do list. So I began honing them. Rather than resolutions, the list became one of guiding principles, how to best fight the good fight.
I eventually thinned it to three: live with integrity, practice gratitude, be a person on whom nothing is lost.
Thanks to Elwood P. Dowd and Mark Roe, I’ve added be pleasant. Pleasantness is how Elwood P. Dowd “won out” over reality.
It’s smart to be pleasant.
You may quote me.
Mark Lindquist is our Pierce County Prosecutor. A career prosecutor with more than 22 years of service, he was appointed in 2009, elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2014.