The shooting of a Black man by law enforcement in Washington state threatened to increase tensions around Portland, Oregon, where protesters against racial injustice have clashed repeatedly with right-wing groups.
Friends and family identified the dead man as Kevin E. Peterson Jr., 21, and said he was a former high school football player and the proud father of an infant daughter. The shooting happened in Hazel Dell, an unincorporated area of Vancouver, Washington, about 12 miles (19 kilometres) north of Portland.
In a statement, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said a joint city-county narcotics task force was conducting an investigation just before 6 p.m. Thursday and chased a man into the parking lot of a bank, where he fired a gun at them. A firearm was recovered at the scene, Atkins said.
Authorities have not named the person who was shot, but Kevin E. Peterson Sr. told The Oregonian/OregonLive the person was his son, Kevin E. Peterson Jr. Atkins referenced the Peterson family in his remarks but did not confirm Peterson was the person who was killed.
“I can say that our agency is grieving as is the Peterson family and the community,” Atkins said. “As the community grieves, I call for there to be a respectful and dignified observance of the loss of life in this matter. There is always the potential for misinformation, doubt and confusion — and there may be those who wish to sow seeds of doubt.”
The investigation has been referred to the Southwest Washington Independent Investigation Team, and the Camas Police Department is taking the lead, Atkins said.
Investigators said Friday evening that the narcotics task force had contacted a man suspected of selling illegal drugs in a motel parking lot and that he fled on foot with officers following. The man produced a handgun and the officers backed off, investigators said. A short time later, the man encountered three Clark County deputies, all of whom fired their pistols at the man, they added. They did not say the man fired a handgun found at the scene, making it unclear what happened just before the shooting.
The community is a short drive north across the Columbia River from Portland, where racial justice protests have played out nearly every night since George Floyd’s killing by police in May. Southwest Washington is also home to the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, which has held rallies for President Donald Trump in Portland in recent months that ended in violence.
Peterson’s family members, including the mother of his infant daughter, grieved on social media and questioned why it took authorities so long to make the shooting public and allow family to identify the body.
“Kevin did everything for me … doesn’t matter what it was or what time he always came when i asked. I regret every argument please come back,” his girlfriend, Olivia Selto, wrote on Twitter. “I miss him so much already.”
More than a dozen Black Lives Matter protesters lined a busy street in Hazel Dell on Friday afternoon in front of the US Bank parking lot where Peterson died. They held signs reading, “Honk for Black lives. White silence is violence” and “Scream his name.”
Bouquets of flowers were tied to a fence where the shooting happened along the street lined with strip malls and fast food restaurants. Most drivers honked in support of protesters, but one man screamed expletives and threats at the protesters and revved his engine as he drove past.
A vigil was planned for Friday evening at the location and by 8 p.m. hundreds of people had gathered, lighting candles and chanting Kevin Peterson’s name and “Black Lives Matter” before Peterson’s family members arrived.
A smaller group of people in support of police and President Trump gathered and waved flags across the street. Some shouted obscenities at the people attending the vigil, a pickup truck and cars with Trump and other flags zoomed past at a high rate of speed and at least one minor scuffle between the groups appeared to break out before 9 p.m., according to footage from news outlets at the scene.
Brooklyn Tidwell, 16, said she and other students attended the rally instead of going to school.
“Black lives aren’t treated the same as my life,“ said Tidwell, who is white. “We should be voicing this and we should be protesting this because it needs to change.”
Daniel Thompson, 26, stopped by with a bouquet of pink roses to leave at the scene. Thompson, who is Black, said he did not know Peterson but could identify with the shooting death.
“I walk this street every day. It’s sickening. It could have been anyone of us,“ he said.
A few blocks away, supporters of law enforcement also gathered, with people holding signs, including some that read, “Police Lives Matter.”
Bystanders at the scene of the shooting said Peterson’s car was towed but his body remained for hours.
Mac Smiff, an organizer of Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, said he knows Peterson’s sister and spent more than five hours at the scene.
“There was a ton of grief, a ton of grief. He’s 21 and has a baby, an infant,” Smiff said. “They’re not sure what happened, why the encounter took place. Everyone was extremely disheveled and confused.”
The elder Peterson told the newspaper that he arrived at the scene about 6 p.m. Thursday but “did not get a chance to identify my son” until 5:30 a.m. Friday.
Jake Thompson, a high school acquaintance of Peterson, said he took photos at the wedding of Peterson’s parents in Portland in 2018. On Friday, he posted a black-and-white photo of Peterson in a suit and bow tie as he flashed a big grin.
“I didn’t sleep much last night,” he said Friday.
Peterson played football at Union High School in Vancouver, Washington, loved sports of any kind and was a big personality who was known and liked by everyone at school, Thompson said.