VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Clark County District Court in Southwestern Washington has condemned Judge Darvin Zimmerman and a prominent law firm has called for his resignation for critical comments of a Black man killed by police.
Zimmerman, whose comments in the courtroom were posted on YouTube, described Kevin Peterson Jr. as “the Black guy they were trying to make an angel out of,” and said he believed he had a death wish and “was so dumb,” The Columbian reported.
The judge also said Peterson’s father had told a police chaplain he felt the shooting was justified but, “the next day, he wakes up with dollar signs in his eyes and George Floyd’s attorneys had already contacted him.”
Zimmerman also said a GoFundMe page that he said claimed Peterson had been unarmed was “like getting money under false pretenses.”
Court records say three Clark County deputies shot Peterson, of Camas, on Oct. 29 following a drug sale of Xanax pills to a confidential informant in Hazel Dell. Deputies fired 34 rounds at the 21-year-old, who died after being struck four times. Peterson was carrying a gun but investigators have found no evidence that he fired.
Zimmerman’s son was on scene as a member of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office but did not fire his weapon.
Zimmerman told the newspaper, “any time we lose a life, it is a tragedy; Kevin Peterson is no exception.” But he did not apologize for his statements or describe them as racist.
The court issued a statement Monday saying it has zero tolerance for racism, and that Zimmerman’s statements do not reflect its values nor those of individual judges.
“Racial bias displayed by a judge is unacceptable, unethical, unjust and cannot be tolerated,” the court said, adding that it “denounces all forms of racism and will not allow racial bias to pervade our courtrooms.”
Vancouver Defenders, the largest defense firm in Southwest Washington, called for Zimmerman’s resignation Monday.
“Judge Zimmerman’s conduct erodes the public’s confidence in our judicial system. A judge’s independence, integrity, and impartiality are paramount in making our system work. When a Judge fails to uphold the canons of his profession he is no longer fit to serve. Judge Zimmerman should resign,” the firm’s statement said.
Attorney Mark Lindquist, who is representing Peterson’s family, said Zimmerman misunderstands the basic facts of the shooting and shows a total lack of empathy for a grieving father.
The recording captured Zimmerman chatting with a District Court Commissioner Abbie Bartlett, who told the newspaper “the fundamental job of the courts is to treat every person fairly. We cannot do that unless we can recognize and address the systemic racism that continues to be pervasive in our country and in our community.”
Presiding District Court Judge Kelli Osler said the court takes allegations of judicial misconduct very seriously.
The video had been made available through the county’s website to adhere to the state’s open courtroom laws during curtailed operations from COVID-19.
Zimmerman was elected as a District Court judge in 1986. He’s been appointed to several state judicial committees and has served as a mentor judge, training newly elected and appointed judges statewide. He previously worked as a criminal prosecutor and received “law enforcement commendations.”
Regarding his comments, Zimmerman said it is time “for us, as a society to move beyond vilifying on social media those sworn to uphold the law and protect us and allow investigations to follow their due course.”