Three weeks after taking office, newly elected Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney has rehired a deputy fired last year for shooting a man after a chase, despite findings by an internal investigation that the shooting was unjustified and a $1 million payout by the county to the man’s family.

Fortney said Tuesday that he has reinstated Deputy Arthur Wallin, who was fired last month after an internal investigation determined that he violated department policy when he shot and killed 24-year-old Nickolas Michael Peters after a high-speed chase near Bothell in October 2018.

Nickolas Michael Peters, 24, was shot and killed by  Deputy Arthur Wallin after a high-speed chase near Bothell in October 2018.
Nickolas Michael Peters, 24, was shot and killed by Deputy Arthur Wallin after a high-speed chase near Bothell in October 2018.

Records show Fortney was Wallin’s supervisor that night and permitted the chase to continue when higher-ups, including then-Sheriff Ty Trenary, believed the pursuit should have been called off. Fortney, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, was disciplined for his actions that night, documents say, though they don’t detail how. He was a sergeant in the department when he ran against and defeated Trenary in November. Wallin’s firing had become a campaign issue; Wallin supported Fortney for sheriff and there were allegations that his termination was retaliation.

Fortney said in a prepared statement Tuesday that he and others in the Sheriff’s Office had been “shocked” when Trenary terminated Wallin in January, particularly after Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell had determined no criminal charges would be filed against the deputy. Fortney said he had promised to revisit the decision after he was elected and said he did so with an open mind and no promises.

He concluded that “Deputy Wallin never should have been terminated in the first place.”

“Deputy sheriffs are expected to make split-second decisions in situations which are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. The incident the former administration terminated him for would fall under this category,” Fortney said. “Deputy Wallin believed his partner’s life was in danger when he chose to use force. I believe Deputy Wallin’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances in which they occurred. …   In my judgment, Deputy Wallin put his life on the line to protect both his partner and his community.”

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Wallin, a 13-year department veteran with prior disciplinary issues, was fired by Trenary last October, just a month before the election, after an internal investigation found that Wallin had violated department policies involving improper use of deadly force and negligence. Trenary said he was skeptical of Wallin’s assertion that his “Spidey sense” told him Peters was armed, even though no weapon was seen. After the shooting, a handgun was found in a closed case beneath the folded-down center console of Peters’ Ford F-150 pickup, the letter says.

According to documents obtained by The Seattle Times through a public-disclosure request, comprising nearly 900 pages of internal-investigation and Snohomish County Multi-Agency Response Team (SMART) reports and interviews, Fortney was the sergeant supervising the chase initiated by Wallin to try to stop a speeding Ford pickup driven by Peters. Trenary and other high-ranking sheriff’s officials determined the chase should have been called off by Fortney.

Jeffery Campiche, one of the attorneys for Carl and Jayni Peters, the parents of the dead man, said the family is “disappointed and concerned” by Wallin’s reinstatement.

“The family’s concern is that Deputy Wallin has demonstrated a willingness to unnecessarily use deadly force in situations that don’t justify it,” Campiche said. He pointed to the internal investigation summary, which concluded there was “No statement, information or evidence to show that Nickolas Peters was known or believed to be armed with a firearm or deadly weapon at the time of the encounter, or that he displayed a weapon or threatened deadly force on either the deputy or his passenger. His vehicle was effectively pinned and disabled.”

“Sheriff Fortney’s decision to disregard his own office’s investigation and … give a gun and badge back to an unstable officer who has demonstrated his willingness use unnecessary deadly force on citizens should be reconsidered,” Campiche wrote.

According to reports, Wallin, 38, chased Peters’ truck while responding to a domestic disturbance call in the 19500 block of Sixth Drive Southeast in the Lynnwood area in the early-morning hours of Oct. 23, 2018. Wallin said Peters was driving erratically and fled when he turned on his emergency lights. Speeds reached 100 miles per hour and Wallin reported the truck was “all over the roadway.”

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At one point, Wallin stated over the police radio that “We have to take this guy out, he’s going to kill someone,” according to documents. The truck eventually spun out and was pinned between a sheriff’s car and some trees, and was immobilized. Peters, whose girlfriend was in the passenger seat, revved the engine, but the investigation concluded the vehicle was pinned. While the other deputy leaped on the hood of the truck and ordered Peters and his girlfriend out of the vehicle, Wallin fired two rounds through the windshield, mortally wounding Peters.

The Snohomish County prosecutor determined the shooting was justified under the law, and declined to file charges. However, an internal investigation determined Wallin had violated department policy and that the shooting was “intentional and unjustified.” Peters’ family filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Wallin and the Sheriff’s Office last year. The county settled the lawsuit for $1 million earlier this month.

The case was an issue during the campaign, with Fortney claiming that Wallin was a supporter who was being punished by Trenary.

According to Trenary’s nine-page letter of termination, Wallin was disciplined twice in 2018, including for an incident in which he improperly deployed his K-9 partner, and another in which he was suspended for five days for running over a woman’s hand while responding to a call.

Meanwhile, in a separate case, Wallin has been named as a defendant in a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed Jan. 10 by a King County man who claims Wallin and another deputy used excessive force by loosing a police dog on him after he failed to obey the officers, who were investigating an anonymous report of a robbery. The man, identified in the lawsuit as Marlon Smith, suffered serious leg injuries. The deputies never identified a robbery victim or that a crime occurred, according to the lawsuit.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Wallin’s reinstatement had not occurred yet. He was reinstated on Friday, according to the sheriff’s office.