EVERETT — Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell will not pursue criminal charges against a sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed an Edmonds man last October.
Deputy Art Wallin shot Nickolas Peters, 24, after a brief pursuit that reportedly reached more than 100 mph east of Lynnwood. Peters was sitting in the driver’s seat of a Ford F-150 and apparently wasn’t following orders, deputies told detectives with the Snohomish Multi-Agency Response Team, who investigate police use of potentially fatal force.
In a six-page memorandum reviewing SMART’s investigation, Cornell called the encounter a “tense, uncertain, rapidly evolving situation” and concluded that a conviction wasn’t likely. The Daily Herald obtained the document through a public records request.
“I believe a jury would likely find that Deputy Wallin, under the totality of the circumstances, was justified in using the force that resulted in Mr. Peter’s death,” he wrote.
In part, that’s because prosecutors would have to prove that Wallin acted with malice, or “evil intent.” He shot Peters just a couple of weeks before Washington state voters passed Initiative 940, doing away with that language, which set an extremely high bar to pursue charges against members of law enforcement who killed someone in the line of duty.
Under the new law, courts have to consider whether another officer in a similar circumstance “would have believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious physical harm to the officer or another individual.”
However, the change in law can’t be applied retroactively, Cornell wrote.
In the letter to SMART detectives, Cornell wrote that Wallin had reason to believe he was in danger.
Peters was driving recklessly and twice escaped deputies’ attempts to stop his vehicle, according to the SMART report. And when a deputy rammed the truck twice, pinning it against some bushes off of Damson Road east of Lynnwood, Peters reportedly was revving his engine despite commands to turn it off, documents say. His girlfriend, Britt Jakobsen, was in the passenger seat.
“Willfully and wantonly endangering himself, Ms. Jakobsen, law enforcement officers, and the public, Mr. Peters engaged in intentional, reckless, and violent felony conduct during a lengthy pursuit that included extraordinary efforts to escape capture,” Cornell wrote.
Furthermore, Cornell wrote, state law doesn’t require Wallin to “wait for a greater threat to present itself or for actual harm to come about before defending himself or others.”
Wallin was forced to assess the risk presented by Peters’ prior actions, as well as his failure to follow commands, Cornell wrote.
Jakobsen told SMART detectives that Peters was trying to follow commands. She said he had raised both of his hands above his shoulders.
She also said that there was a flurry of conflicting orders being shouted at them. On audio recorded by nearby witnesses, the two deputies could be heard saying “Turn it off, turn it off,” “Open the door” and “Hands up, hands up, hands up. Get your (expletive) hands up.”
Cornell wrote that Jakobsen’s statements appeared to conflict with those of a bystander who saw the encounter. The witness reportedly said Peters was apparently ignoring orders and, at one point, ducked.
Wallin fired two shots. Both bullets went through Peters’ right arm, according to a report by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner. One embedded in his ribs, while the other pierced the right lung and landed in the spine.
The family of Peters filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Snohomish County and Wallin, seeking $10 million in damages.
“It’s our belief that Nick should have been arrested, not shot,” attorney Jeff Campiche said at a June press briefing.
Wallin remains on paid administrative leave, sheriff’s spokesperson Shari Ireton said. The office is conducting its own internal investigation, she said.
The deputy has confronted armed gunmen before. Wallin shot a drunken, despondent man at a Stanwood home in 2013. In that case, two deputies shouted conflicting commands to a man with a rifle in his home, to both raise his arms and drop his weapon. Gene Fagerlie raised the gun, and Wallin opened fire. One bullet hit Fagerlie’s hand. Another bullet grazed his head.
That shooting was ruled justified by then Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe.