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.
Wrongful Death in Seattle
On March 24, 2022, I filed a $10 million dollar claim against Seattle for the wrongful death of William Yurek. At Herrmann Law Group, I represent Mr. Yurek’s adult daughter and the mother of his three minor children.
This was a tragic and preventable death that serves as a cautionary tale.
Mr. Yurek’s 13-year-old son did the important things right to save his father. Seattle, unfortunately, did the important things wrong.
On November 2, 2021, at 1:24 pm, Yurek’s son called 911 because his father was having a medical emergency at home. The 46-year-old Yurek had chest pains and difficulty breathing.
Medics arrived six minutes later. This is quick. They did not enter the residence, however, because they were told to wait for a police escort. Yurek was mistakenly on a outdated blacklist for hostility to first responders. A previous tenant had been on the list, but Yurek should not have been. The blacklist was outdated.
At 1:37 pm, Yurek’s son called 911 a second time, more desperate. His father’s condition was worsening. About 1:40 pm, medics decided to ignore the order to wait for police. They entered Yurek’s residence and applied a defibrillator and started CPR, but too late. Yurek died of a heart attack in front of his young son.
“When you’re keeping a list people’s lives depend upon, that list needs to be accurate and up to date,” I told reporters. “Seattle screwed up.”
Police arrived at the scene about 15 minutes after the first call. Due primarily to decisions from city officials, the Seattle Police Department was significantly understaffed. Firefighters and officers told reporters police would have been at the scene sooner but for the staffing shortage.
“People need to know how the city let this happen,” said Meagan Petersen, Yurek’s ex-wife and mother of his three minor children. “They could have saved Will if the system was working like it should.”
Meagan is correct. Medical experts believe Yurek had a good chance of survival if medics had been able to treat him as soon as they arrived.
In addition to his ex-wife and three minor children, Yurek is survived by his adult daughter Brooklyn.
Brooklyn told reporters her father taught her how to ride a bike, tie her shoes, and to appreciate art. She attributes her own artistic talent to him. She wants an apology and acknowledgment from the city that, “Their system is failing.”
You can hear the 911 calls in the Q13 story, including the erroneous assertion that Yurek was a danger to first responders, a mistake from the outdated blacklist. Almost all of the local media covered the story, including KOMO TV, Seattle Times, and local radio, including Jason Rantz, Ari Hoffmann, and John Carlson.
Rantz broke the story initially and it was picked up nationally, including by the New York Post and Associated Press. Many outlets used it as an example of dysfunction in Seattle and other cities.
The family is grateful for the medics who tried to save Will’s life. They understand city officials are to blame.
By the way, a civil claim is a necessary legal prelude to a lawsuit against a government entity in Washington State. Sixty days after filing the claim, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed if the claim is not resolved.
Please check back here as we move toward justice for the family. And, as always, please let me know if I can ever help with anything.
Never Mind Nirvana, my third published novel, was set in the music scene of Seattle. This was an era when local bands became the focus of international attention.
Seattle, which had been sort of a cool secret, was suddenly famous. As Mark Arm of Mudhoney sang, “Everybody loves us. Everybody loves our town.”
There was the Seattle sound, the Seattle books, the Seattle movies, the Seattle-based Starbucks. Our rainy city had its day in the sun.
Eighteen years after Nirvana played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on “Saturday Night Live,” Seattle is once again in a hot spotlight.
On June 8, Seattle Police deserted their East Precinct building in Capitol Hill. Police Chief Carmen Best publicly denied giving the order. Nobody has owned the decision yet. As John F. Kennedy said, “Success has many friends. Failure is an orphan.”
Once the police vacated the precinct, the city ceded a six-block section of businesses and apartments. The area became known as CHOP, or the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest. There were other acronyms as well, such as CHAZ, Capital Hill Autonomous Zone, but the media mostly went with CHOP.
On June 20, Lorenzo Anderson was hanging out in the CHOP area when he was shot multiple times. He was nineteen. There were witnesses and videos. Everyone is a videographer these days, a boon to accountability.
Seattle Fire Department and police personnel knew Anderson was shot and in need of medical assistance. He was, in fact, bleeding to death. One video circulating on social media shows a man yelling at SFD medics sitting in an ambulance.
“You guys could be saving this man’s life right now…. You could be saving his life…. Sir, please explain, what’s going on? He’s dying. He needs your help.”
Lorenzo never received medical assistance from the SFD medics who were staged about a block and half away. Instead, civilians drove him to Harborview Medical Center in the back of a pickup truck roughly 20 minutes later. He died there.
Prelude to a Lawsuit
Lara Herrmann and I filed a claim against the City of Seattle, King County, and Washington State for this wrongful death.
The city made numerous mistakes. Our claim is focused on two. One, Seattle officials created a dangerous environment, and two, city personnel failed to medically assist Anderson. There was no plan to provide essential services into CHOP, or at least not a working plan.
On one day the Mayor framed CHOP as a “summer of love,” and on another day city officials claimed the area was too dangerous for police and fire department personnel to do their jobs. Nobody was on the same page. Everyone had their own political agenda.
Our claim is a legal prelude to a lawsuit. We represent Lorenzo’s mother. Our goal is justice for Lorenzo’s family, accountability for the city, and answers for all of us.
There is still much to learn. Four TV stations covered the story, including Q13 and KOMO. Sara Jean Green at The Seattle Times also covered it, as did Matt Nagle at the Tacoma paper, The TW. I went on air with Dori Monson, Kirby Wilbur, and other radio stations. National media picked up the narrative and ran in a variety of directions, as the media is wont to do.
Ashley Hiruko at KUOW, a local NPR affiliate, ran a story on how the Seattle Police Department and Fire Department miscommunicated with each other the night Lorenzo was shot. Protestors were begging the SFD medics to come in for Lorenzo, but SFD’s confused communication with SPD contributed to the paralysis.
Trouble in CHOP was foreseeable, but city officials lacked the foresight.
More Shootings, More Lawsuits
After Lorenzo was shot, there were four more shootings and five more victims in CHOP, including a dead 14-year-old boy.
After police finally reclaimed their own precinct, and the abandoned area, the Seattle City Council voted to largely defund the police. The Mayor vetoed the bill. Oh, and Chief Best quit.
Stay tuned as this story continues. More claims and lawsuits have been filed, including one by local business owners and residents of the area formerly known as CHOP.
Personal Injury Lawyers
Meanwhile, as you likely know, I’ve been with Herrmann Law Group, a personal injury firm, since January of 2019. For my first year, I was primarily focused on our lawsuits against Boeing for the two crashes of the Boeing 737 Max 8. There have been numerous stories, and 60 Minutes Australia was one of the best. Many of the cases have since settled.
We still have work to do on our cases against Boeing, but this year I’m also working on a variety of other equally just causes. Please let me know if I can ever be of legal assistance to you, your family, or friends.
I’m continually pleased by the parallels between prosecution and personal injury work — pursuing justice, holding bad actors accountable, and helping people.
Photograph by Alex Mertz
Working at Home
After I returned from Jakarta and Tokyo in late February, I went into a 14-day quarantine because of the coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19. About the time I was ready to return to our office at Herrmann Law Group, life changed. For safety, everyone at HLG started working from home. I already was.
One of my carryovers from the Prosecutor’s Office is Bill Bilichek’s mantra, “Do your job.” That’s what we are doing at HLG. Serving clients, accepting clients, and carrying on, albeit remotely. As I write this, I’ve been working at home for about seven weeks.
In early March, Governor Inslee issued a stay at home order for the entire state, which stays in effect until May 4, at least. I hear we should prepare for a long haul. The order will likely be extended in May, though restrictions will be scaled back.
If you’re also working at home, I hope you find it useful as well as entertaining. If you’re not working at home, see what you are missing.
Later, I posted the article on my blog, but an updated version that went out to the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association, a.k.a. lawyers. In my blog post I add an eleventh tip in the spirit of Spinal Tap.
Also on my author blog, you can read the latest updates on our Lion Air lawsuit against Boeing. You can also find Lion Air updates in the news section of this site. We are making remarkable progress on behalf of 46 victim families.
Last year we filed the first vaping lawsuit in Washington State. That case is also moving forward. Vaping has fallen off the media map, as most everything has during this Covid19 crisis, but we are continuing to sign clients who have been injured from vaping.
As always, please let me know if I can help you with anything. I continue to enjoy the transition from local safety to global safety. As I told CNN, it’s about justice, accountability, and helping people.
Meanwhile, we come together by staying apart. Call me, FaceTime me, connect on social media.
Stay safe and remember: the Renaissance followed the Bubonic Plague.
Local Safety to Global Safety
Some news is fake, but it is still cool to wake up in Jakarta and see your case on the front page of The New York Times next to a story about Bret Ellis, a fine writer and friend of many years. The NYT, which still employs fact-checkers, got both stories right.
I am honored to to be meeting, learning about, and representing many of the victim families from the crash of Lion Air JT 610. I have spent most of 2019 in Indonesia. The victim families deserve lawyers who care about them and will fight for them. They have that.
In May, I was in Chicago where we filed our lawsuit against Boeing in federal court.
“Liability will not truly be in dispute here. Boeing is at fault. Their equipment failed. Their planes crashed twice,” Mark Lindquist, an attorney with the Herrmann Law Group who is representing the families of 26 victims of the Lion Air crash, told Yahoo Finance.
I also did an interview with 60 Minutes Australia as part of an excellent feature about the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The New York Times has run several solid stories about the aircraft, the crashes, and the surrounding circumstances.
Local papers generally do not have the resources or talent to do true investigative reporting, resorting to gossip-mongering instead, but Dominic Gates of The Seattle Times has written several well-researched, fact-based articles. He covered the filing of our initial lawsuit.
The story of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is a cautionary tale about putting profits before people.
On March 10, 2019, a second, nearly new, Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed. This time it was Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302. The circumstances were eerily similar to the Lion Air crash. The same plane, the same defective equipment, the same fatal dive.
At HLG, we are also representing victim families from the Ethiopian Airlines crash. We have a head start with our experience and knowledge from working on the Lion Air crash.
The 737 MAX 8 has a new computer system, the MCAS, that essentially takes control of the aircraft from the pilots. The MCAS forces the nose down if it senses the plane may stall. In both of these crashes, the MCAS apparently incorrectly sensed a stall and forced the nose down into a fatal dive.
Preliminary reports from both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crash indicate that the pilots fought with the MCAS. You can see it in the flight patterns. The computer forced the nose down, the pilots brought the nose up, the computer forced the nose back down, the pilots brought it back up … until the computer overpowered the pilots.
At an international press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, I likened the MCAS to HAL, the villainous computer in the Stanley Kubrick movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I saw nodding heads. Fortunately there were movie aficionados in the audience.
So why was the MCAS installed?
Aeronautical engineers believe the 737, which had an excellent safety record prior to these two crashes, became an unstable plane when the engines were moved forward. The MCAS was designed to remedy this instability.
So why were the engines moved forward at the expense of the plane’s airworthiness?
Because the business minds of Boeing, according to Forbes and other sources, believed they needed a more fuel-efficient jet to compete with AirBus, a French aircraft manufacturer. The goal of a more fuel-efficient aircraft makes sense. The problem is the plane was rushed into service and carrying passengers before it was safe.
Boeing did not fully inform pilots, the airlines, or even the FAA of the potential dangers posed by the MCAS. The manufacture downplayed the dramatic changes to the 737 for fear the information would negatively impact sales.
In other words, it all comes down to profits.
For more information on the Boeing 737 MAX and our lawsuits, check the HLG website and stay tuned to my professional Facebook page and personal Facebook page. I am also sharing stories on the blog of my author website.
I’m grateful for this fitting transition from local safety to global safety.
Herrmann Law Group
Back in the U.S. after more than a month working in Jakarta and on Bangka Island in Indonesia.
State Senator and WA State Insurance Commissioner Karl Herrmann founded the firm in 1950. His son Charles Herrmann and granddaughter Lara grew the firm further. We a personal injury firm that handles everything from aviation disasters to car crashes.
One of the firm’s more famous cases was featured in the movie “Tailspin.” Chuck represented 89 families of victims from Korean Airlines Flight 007, which was shot down by a Russian fighter jet. He won millions for the families.
My commitment to justice, accountability, and the public good continues.
Oh, and yes, I have been writing, too. I will keep you posted on my author blog.
In Indonesia, I became enamored with the culture, reading authors such as Pramoedya Anata Toer. Also, I started James Michener’s memoir, “The World is My Home.”
As Rudyard Kipling said, “This is a brief life, but in its brevity it offers some splendid moments, memorable adventures.”
I posted pictures from Indonesia on my Instagram page, which is my primary form of social media these days.
I will be returning to Indonesia as there is more work to be done. The families from the Lion Air crash are heartbroken. They deserve vigorous representation.