Camas police detective to lead Peterson shooting-death investigation

Kevin E. Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old Black father and former Union High School football player, was killed Oct. 29 in an officer-involved shooting in Hazel Dell

Kevin Peterson Jr. (Photo by Jake Thompson, courtesy of The Columbian)

Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins speaks to media on Friday, Oct. 30, about the officer-involved shooting death of Kevin E. Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old Black father from Camas, who was killed Oct. 29, in a shooting involving Clark County Sheriff's Office deputies.

Camas Police Detective Scott Boyles will lead a team of independent investigators examining the circumstances that led to the officer-involved shooting death of a 21-year-old Clark County man.

Kevin E. Peterson Jr., 21, a Black father of a 4-month-old daughter and former Union High School football player, was killed Oct. 29, during a shooting involving Clark County Sheriff’s deputies in Hazel Dell.

Investigators from the Southwest Washington Independent Investigations Response team, which is looking into the circumstances leading to Peterson’s death, have said detectives from the Clark/Vancouver Drug Task Force suspected Peterson of selling illegal drugs in the parking lot of the Quality Inn motel off Northeast Highway 99 in Hazel Dell, chased Peterson on foot until the suspect allegedly “produced a handgun and the officers backed off.”

The investigative team stated in a press release issued Oct. 30, that, “a short time later, (Peterson) encountered three Clark County deputies who all discharged their pistols.”

The team also said crime scene investigators found a Glock model 23, 40-caliber pistol near Peterson’s body.

All deputies involved in the shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the results of the ongoing investigation.

Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins held a press conference on Friday, Oct. 30, shortly before the investigative team issued its own press release, and said there is a lot he does not know about Peterson’s death.

“The information I have is that, upon entering the parking lot of a bank, the man reportedly fired his weapon at the deputies,” Atkins said. “The deputies returned fire and the subject was, tragically, killed.”

The sheriff said he is committed to ensuring “there is a complete, thorough, independent determination of what happened, how it happened and what can be learned” from the shooting death of Peterson.

“It’s important to relate that the loss of a young man’s life likely means there is a grieving father, mother and other family,” Atkins said. “It is right and correct that the community would grieve along with this family. … I believe that it is important that the family be kept updated as much as absolutely possible.”

Family says they ‘waited 12 hours in the cold’ to ID son’s body

A GoFundMe established Oct. 30, by Peterson’s father, Kevin Peterson Sr., had raised more than $52,000 for the young man’s family as of Nov. 4. On the GoFundMe page, Peterson’s father describes his son as “a happy young man with his whole life ahead of him” who has now “become another face of racial injustice.”

The elder Peterson said his family “waited 12 hours in the cold” before being able to identify Peterson Jr.

“Throughout the entire night, the Vancouver Police had told us nothing,” Peterson wrote on the GoFundMe, adding that Atkins’ press conference on Friday provided more information to the media than police had given to the family.

“I’m asking my community to come together and help as much as each person can,” Peterson Sr. stated on the GoFundMe. “Whether it be sharing this post, donating for funeral costs, praying over us or even just saying his name when they want us to stay silent.”

Hundreds of mourners and Black Lives Matter activists gathered in Hazel Dell near the scene of the shooting off Highway 99 on Friday, Oct. 30, to call attention to Peterson Jr.’s death, some with signs asking passersby to “Scream his name” and “Honk for Black lives.”

Prosecutor requests outside help ‘to increase independence’

The investigation into Peterson’s death has been turned over to the Southwest Washington Independent Investigative Response Team, with assistance from the Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team.

On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Battle Ground Police Department, which had been in charge of the team’s communications, said Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik had requested Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team members take over the roles of team commander and lead investigator “in an effort to increase independence in the investigation team.”

Camas Det. Boyles will lead the team, with Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Troy Brightbill acting as team commander, Longview Police Detective Ralph Webb taking over as lead investigator and Longview Police Detective Marc Langlois serving as the team’s public information officer.

Part of the Washington State Initiative 940 passed by voters in November 2018, required “an independent investigation completely independent of the involved agency” in cases where police use of force resulted in death or substantial bodily harm.

The investigative response team also includes a minimum of two non-law enforcement community members who will be present at the briefings with the involved agencies and have access to the redacted investigative file after the prosecutor’s office has reviewed it.

Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell recently noted that those two non-law enforcement community representative positions were recruited earlier this year.

“There was a countywide recruitment to fill those citizen positions,” McDonnell said. “It was heavily advertised in both social media and in print media, and a list of people was developed who were willing to serve in that role.”