Stirring up some ghosts

I saw the other day that somebody had been on this blog reading up on the sad story of Kevin Peterson Jr., the 21-year-old man who was killed by county sheriff's deputies in Vancouver, Washington back in the fall of 2020. The lawmen had busted him in a drug sting involving 50 sleeping pills. When he ran away from them, allegedly having shown a gun, they shot him from behind and killed him. Then they apparently misled everyone about what happened.

Of course, no criminal charges were brought against any of the three cops who shot at Peterson; in fact, none of them was disciplined in any meaningful way. When last I heard, as a last attempt at justice, Peterson's survivors had sued a number of police, including at least two of the three directly involved, and their employer, Clark County, for damages. (The third officer is dead, having been fatally shot by a suspect in another botched drug mission nine months after the Peterson killing.)

The reader's interest led me to poke around a little and see whatever happened to the lawsuit. The local media seems to have dropped the story, but there's been quite a bit of action, and the case appears to still be very much alive. 

The suit was brought in the federal district court. The two cops, Robert Anderson and Jonathan Feller, asked the judge to rule that the evidence so clearly justified their conduct that the case should be thrown out, on summary judgment, before a trial even got started. 

The judge, Barbara Rothstein, was having none of that. She rejected the deputies' argument that they had shown conclusively that they were entitled to immunity. The judge ruled that there was enough conflicting evidence that their claim would have to go to a jury. But before seating a jury and trying the case, she let the officers appeal her decision, which they did.

And so the case is now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, with the briefs submitted and oral argument scheduled for next month. Even assuming that the Ninth Circuit rules promptly for Peterson's family, which is by no means guaranteed, it would be this fall, four years after he died, before the trial could get started. You know what they say about justice delayed.

I've posted Judge Rothstein's opinion here, and the appeals briefs here, here, and here. If like me, you followed the case in that horrible period when it all went down, I think you'll find most of this material pretty interesting. As became clear when security cam footage was released, the police shot Peterson as he was running away from them. Three of his four fatal wounds were shots that entered his body from behind and exited in front of him. (The fourth shot that hit him was neither back-to-front nor front-to-back.) The lawyer for the deputies keeps emphasizing that Peterson "was not shot in the back," but he was shot from behind, which is the family's whole point.

As I recall, they fired something like 34 times, hitting him four times in total. What a bunch of cowboys.

You can read the briefs as well as I can, but I think what the district judge did was exactly right, and if I were on the appeals court panel, her decision would be affirmed in a hurry. There are plenty of questions about the cops' story that a jury needs to iron out. Summary judgment was a real longshot by the defendants' counsel, and it's a shame it was allowed to delay things by what may turn out to be a year.

Meanwhile, Deputy Feller was in the news again 10 days ago, when a poor s.o.b. who robbed a gas station was convicted of murder after Feller showed up and hastily shot an innocent man dead.

A Clark County jury on Friday convicted a Yakima man for murder after he held up a gas station, fled the scene and ultimately led a Clark County deputy to inadvertently shoot and kill an off-duty Vancouver officer.

Jurors found that Julio Segura, 22, caused the fatal shooting of Donald Sahota, whose house he ran to in January 2021 while police chased him for robbing a gas station. Responding sheriff’s deputy Jon Feller shot and killed Sahota, mistaking him for the suspect.

The first-degree murder conviction means Segura will likely face a 20-year prison sentence, according to his attorneys....

Initially, Segura left the Sahota home without incident. But the veteran police officer, who was home with his wife, grabbed his handgun and attempted to arrest Segura in his driveway. Segura resisted and stabbed Sahota multiple times during the fight.

As Segura then fled into Sahota’s house, Clark County deputies began arriving in their patrol cars. Feller, who was among the first to arrive, exited his car and saw Sahota pick up a gun and run toward the house. Feller opened fire roughly four seconds after arriving. 

The stab wounds that Segura inflicted on Sahota were serious enough that left untreated, they might have killed him. But Sahota was still on the move, and still had a chance, until Feller showed up and killed him. When the cops kill each other by mistake, and you're on the hook for that, it's not a good outcome.

I try to give the police the benefit of the doubt, but here I see evidence of extreme recklessness, with the same officer wrongfully using deadly force in both incidents. Within four months of each other. And apparently that cop's still out there, driving around in his patrol car with his gun. Something about that seems not right.


  1. As a tax payer in Clark County I hav already paid for the Police Officer wages and training plus the 34 bullets that his this young fool who was running away - I know have to pay for a trial and a law suit which will possibly result in an out of court settlement for over a million. This will go no where and is starting to cost millions to the County taxpayers who are forced to pay for this legal sham. I only heard of the man that was shot today, but my taxes will go to pay for it. it does not seem to worry anyone other than me! Thank you for the article I feel you have a well balanced opinion.

  2. It's a sad day when we have to support cops because we've allowed the situation to get so out of hand it is obvious that without them it's much worst. But as you point out, we can't give them carte blanche to kill and maim regardless of the situation. Sort of like that inane phrase: "We support the troops"- as they blow up a wedding party, just in case a bad guy might be there.

  3. Poor guy shows up for a dope deal with a sidearm and get shoot to death - at some point pointing his weapon at the cops! Think George Flloyd's overdose., Bik Mikes struggle to grab the cop's gun, or Trayvon's failed manslaughter attempt.

    I say leave the policing to our area's educators. Say, they're no going to install my favorite statue of Harvey Scott nor that of the pioneering family - I certainly hope they restore that death mask of York or some of the young gunslingers so frequently shot around here

  4. “I try to give the cops the benefit of the doubt” I’ve been reading your blogs on and of for decades and have never seen you do that, ever.

    1. That's probably because you're a cop and you filter everything through your "thin blue line" glasses. I cut the cops a lot more slack than others did during the riots.

  5. Vancouver PD has always been really crazy, as crazy as Clackamas County. There was a racial lawsuit some 10-15 years ago involving a black cop who was on their SWAT team, a highly decorated fellow who became a whistle blower. So VPD retaliated by using him as a human shield as a punishment for getting out of line. Seriously, they have him go into a risky situation first, have a shooter with a rifle on his shoulder, and they would do this as a practice drill. As a shooter I can state that this whole tactic was unconscionably dumb: this isn't how you enter rooms, it isn't how you brace for a shot, it was just something they used to intimidate this guy.


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