Just weeks into his new job, Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney rehired a deputy fired last year for killing an unarmed man. The move shocked many in the community and law enforcement and risks jeopardizing the public’s faith in the department.
The reinstatement of Deputy Arthur Wallin overturns the decision of Sheriff Ty Trenary, the incumbent Fortney ousted in the November election. The move is especially tone deaf at a time of high societal tension over the use of force by law enforcement.
Nearly 60% of voters statewide enacted strong policies governing police use of force in 2018’s Initiative 940 election. Just two weeks before that vote, Wallin shot and killed Nickolas Michael Peters, 24, after a high-speed chase near Bothell. The deputy said afterward that his “Spidey sense” told him that Peters had a gun in his truck. After the shooting, police did find a handgun in a closed case beneath the truck’s center console.
Wallin hadn’t seen that gun. He hadn’t radioed with a specific compelling public-safety reason — such as suspicion of a drunk or drugged driver — to justify the prolonged chase. That night, Fortney was Wallin’s direct supervisor and authorized the pursuit. Fortney himself was later disciplined for his actions in the incident.
Because of this personal involvement, Fortney should have recused himself from later decision-making over Wallin’s fate. Instead, Fortney brought up Wallin’s firing in his campaign, then wrote in the November voters’ pamphlet he would “remove the handcuffs from officers and put them on the criminals.”
In a memo about rehiring Wallin, Fortney’s strained explanation is that he thought Trenary made a bad decision on the facts found in an internal investigation. That investigation found no evidence from the encounter that showed reason to fear Peters was armed or could use his “effectively pinned and disabled” truck as a weapon.
“The prior administration did not credit Dep. Wallin’s perception,” Fortney wrote. “I do.”
The effects of that night were devastating for a family and costly for the county. The county paid Peters’ family a $1 million lawsuit settlement.
Wallin’s use of deadly force in this situation should disqualify him from carrying a badge and a gun. Snohomish County’s 814,000 residents need to know that Sheriff Fortney has their best interests at heart.
Fortney, a 23-year deputy, including five years as a sergeant, lacks prior experience in top-level management of such a complex 700-employee public agency. He acted within a sheriff’s broad legal power to bring Wallin back and will face little accountability until the election of 2023. The timing of the shooting worked to Wallin’s benefit. Prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against him. Under the law at the time, a charge required proof of “malice” by law enforcement. I-940 changed that.
By reinstating Wallin, Fortney signaled that he is not willing to hold his deputies accountable — to the point of overlooking the conclusions of a credible investigation. Friday, he reinstated two other deputies Trenary fired for dishonesty after a different internal investigation found they covered up a warrantless search.
This calls into question Fortney’s judgment to lead responsibly for the next four years.