Killer cops' story has a lot of holes

Every step the police in Vancouver, Washington take in revealing the details of their version of the fatal police shooting of Kevin Peterson Jr. intensifies the suspicion that at least one of the three officers who shot at Peterson didn't tell the truth, and may still not be telling the truth, about what happened. 

The latest release of information on the October 29 killing came the other day, on a Friday, in response to a public records request by Oregon Public Broadcasting. As we all know, Friday is the day of the week when villains in government break news that they would rather not have to show. Their hope is that it will get the minimum amount of media coverage possible. And so when information is dropped right before the weekend, the situation already smells bad.

The Peterson investigation is turning out to be a textbook case of such conduct. This is the second stinky news dump on a weekend eve. The Clark County authorities released the previous batch of information on Thanksgiving Eve. That release included surveillance video footage showing Peterson running away from police and being shot in the back.

The latest release, 484 pages of documents representing only part of the investigative record so far, strongly suggests that officers involved have not been entirely honest about what happened.

The inaccurate statements began immediately after the shooting. The detective who shot first, Robert Anderson, initially said that Peterson had fired a handgun at the police twice. As it turns out, there is no evidence that Peterson fired a gun at all. As OPB reporter Troy Brynelson explains:

Investigators say, Anderson, the officer who first shot at Peterson, radioed immediately after the incident that Peterson “got off two shots in our direction” during the shooting — a claim later debunked by independent investigators.

Anderson told investigators he “saw the suspect pointing his weapon in the direction of Det. Brown while simultaneously hearing a ‘pop’ leading him to believe the suspect was shooting,” the documents show.

The seemingly incorrect information was also relayed by drug task force supervisor, Sgt. Bill Sofianos, who said he told Peterson’s parents at the scene that night their son had fired a gun at deputies.

From the security camera footage at the bank branch where the killing occurred, we can see that when what appear to be the first shots hit Peterson, he was not shooting, or pointing, a gun at anyone. He was running away from the police.

Now Anderson, who has been a police officer in Clark County for 13 years, is hearing "pops" that he cannot distinguish from gunfire? It "strains credulity," as the lawyers say.

Anderson almost comes out and admits that he shot Peterson from behind. He justifies firing by saying he thought Peterson was going to shoot some other, unidentified cops at the north end of the parking lot, which is the direction Peterson was running. 

Anderson told investigators that “it appeared to him the suspect was not going to give up and he was going to shoot it out with the police.”

Anderson said he was “concerned the suspect was going to run north into the containment officers on the other side of the bank and shoot one of them.”

If that is true, did it give Anderson license to kill? The cops claim they saw Peterson's gun well before they pulled their triggers. One early version of their story was that Peterson dropped the gun, and picked it back up, near the motel parking lot where they first confronted him. Why, then, would they wait several minutes, until he was running away, to kill him? If the mere presence of a gun in the man's hand raised a "concern," the timing of the first shot doesn't make a lot of sense. They say they saw the gun long before the point at which they opened fire.

One of the other two deputies who shot Peterson, Jon Feller, has also given some curious statements to investigators. He and the third cop, Jeremy Brown, both say they heard Anderson's shots but somehow didn't know who was shooting.

Ultimately, Anderson fired his weapon. Neither Brown nor Feller knew exactly where the shooting was coming from at first, investigators said.

“Det. Brown said after a few moments he starts hearing shots to the South (right) of him but wasn’t sure where they were coming from,” investigators said. “He said he noticed the suspect continued to travel north and nothing seemed to be affecting him.”

Likewise, Feller “could hear gunshots to his right but didn’t know who was shooting,” investigators said.

To the south of the bank parking lot is an empty lot surrounding by a chain link fence. The same is true on the east side of the bank parking lot. Those are the only two directions that could have been to the deputies' right. If the shots weren't fired by their comrade in arms, Anderson, who else would it be? I guess they are insinuating that it was Peterson, or at least, that they had no way of knowing it wasn't Peterson.

Feller also appears to have fired his gun as Peterson ran north away from the officers’ direction, investigators wrote. Feller’s statements about those key moments appeared to be contradicted by footage investigators released on Nov. 25.

And so the shot that hit Peterson in the back may have come from Feller. Then there is this:

“Deputy Feller ... said the suspect turned to face him and pointed the gun directly at him,” investigators said. “… Deputy Feller discharged his weapon firing at the suspect. He said the suspect turned away from him and started walking North again before sitting down. (Feller) said the suspect laid on his back.”

The security cam footage doesn't lie. Peterson was running away. He collapsed. He did not walk. He did not "sit down."

Once Peterson was hit and fell, the video shows that he did sit up and aim something at the deputies, most likely a handgun. At that point, they finished him off. But two of the cops, if not all three, had shot at him as he ran away. And at least one of those bullets had hit him.

In the end, the police fired 34 times. They ended up hitting him four times, according to the official account.

* * * * *

It's bad enough what went down that late afternoon, but what has happened since then is equally alarming. From a procedural standpoint, the investigation stinks to high heaven.

Under Washington state law, inquiries into police shootings are supposed to be independent, and so the Clark County sheriff's department was required to farm it out to another police agency. But whom did they choose? A captain in the Camas police department.

Funny thing, that captain is married to a sergeant in, you guessed it, the Clark County sheriff's department. Five days, five crucial days, elapsed before someone decided that that was improper, and at that point the investigation was abruptly handed over to the Cowlitz County sheriff's department. They didn't get around to interviewing the three shooter deputies for at least a week after the killing. One cop had 11 days after Peterson's death to think about what he was going to say.

So what went down early on does not inspire confidence. But it's not getting any better. The obfuscation continues. The autopsy report on Peterson is still secret. Maybe it will tell us the angle from which he was shot dead. Friday's info dump does reveal, according to Brynelson, that "[p]reliminary reports in the documents say bullets hit Peterson twice in the upper right chest, once in the upper left arm and one bullet went through his neck." But come on, the shooting happened five weeks ago. The autopsy was finished a month ago. Where is the autopsy report? Where did the bullets enter the man's body?

The video indicates that at least one, probably the first one, hit him from behind.

Maybe we'll find out more eventually. I suspect there is more digital evidence out there that will shed some additional light on what really happened. For instance, I can't imagine that the bank branch has only one security camera. 

And Peterson's girlfriend was on the phone with him while he was on the run. That call, which was a FaceTime call, didn't end until several minutes after he was dead. I remember seeing somewhere that she recorded part of the call, which means there's audio, at least. Maybe even video. The cops have demanded that the girlfriend turn over the call. She's refused, and the police, who still have the dead man's iPhone, are trying to unlock it, or force Apple to give up his iCloud account.

* * * * *

The whole incident is so profoundly sad. If I had to bet, I'd say the three cops will not be disciplined in any meaningful way, the county will pay out some damages (but not a lot), and there'll be no serious reform. That turns the death of Kevin Peterson into a tragedy for everyone. Even if he was a drug dealer peddling Xanax pills, and even if he was armed, they should not have shot him in the back while he was running away. They should not have told implausible stories after they killed him. And the investigation into his death should not have been a farce.


  1. Oregon Live had an article on December 4th entitled, "Phone still on live FaceTime call and gun found near Kevin Peterson Jr.’s body, investigative reports show."

    It said, "The autopsy found that Peterson had been shot four times: once in his shoulder, twice in his chest and once in his arm." No mention of the neck. And that's not enough information to determine the direction the bullets were coming from. The chest implies from the front but the shoulder could be from behind. For example the shoulder blade is in the upper back.

    1. It looks like the two reporters (OPB and OregonLive) either saw different documents or read them differently. Presumably a full autopsy report would clear things up. I'm sure it exists. The cops and their enablers just don't want us to see it yet.


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