Snohomish County prosecutors will not file criminal charges against a sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed an unarmed 24-year-old man after a high-speed chase and crash last October.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell on July 23 issued a six-page memorandum that states the use of deadly force against 24-year-old Nickolas Michael Peters was justified under the circumstances and the law that was in place at the time.
“Mr. Peters engaged in intentional, reckless and violent felony conduct during a lengthy pursuit that included extraordinary efforts to escape capture,” Cornell wrote after reviewing evidence and statements gathered during a lengthy investigation by the Snohomish County Multi-Agency Response Team (SMART). The prosecutor said that Peters continued to try to drive off even after his pickup was pinned by a deputy’s cruiser and that he failed to respond to numerous commands to shut off the truck and show his hands.
Cornell concluded that a jury would find that Deputy Arthur Wallin was justified in shooting Peters to end a deadly threat.
Wallin initiated a chase with Peters’ pickup 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 the truck was driving erratically and fled when he turned on his emergency lights. According to reports, speeds reached 100 miles per hour and the truck was driving “all over the roadway.”
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 the prosecution memo.
The memo states that Wallin attempted to execute a “Pursuit Immobilization Technique” (PIT), forcing the truck into a spin, but that Peters regained control of the vehicle after spinning 180 degrees, and drove off again. Peters’ vehicle sideswiped a sheriff’s cruiser driven by Deputy Mark Stich and narrowly avoided collisions with two other vehicles before Wallin caught up with it again and managed to successfully perform another PIT maneuver, sending the vehicle rear-first into a clump of bushes and trees near Bothell, according to the investigation. Stich arrived and rammed the truck head-on, pinning it against the trees, according to the document.
Wallin left his vehicle and was standing on the passenger side of the truck with his handgun drawn while Stich said he climbed on top of the hood of the truck to prevent Peters from fleeing from the driver’s side. According to reports, the driver’s side door was damaged during one of the collisions and would not open. Both deputies were yelling at Peters to turn off the truck and for Peters and his passenger, 22-year-old Britt Jakobsen, to raise their hands when Wallin fired twice through the windshield. One of the rounds went through Peters’ arm and into his chest, killing him.
Police later found a .45 caliber handgun in a zippered case beneath the truck’s console. Peters’ hands were empty when he was shot, according to witness reports.
Jakobsen, Peters’ fiancée, has said she and Peters were complying with the officers’ commands when Wallin fired. However, Cornell said he discounted her statements after considering audio from a surveillance camera and statements from other witnesses.
“Ms. Jakobsen’s recollections are … at odds with the other testimonial evidence, including that provided by a neutral eyewitness,” the prosecutor wrote. “I believe a neutral and rational fact finder would likely weigh this evidence in favor of the other witnesses, not Ms. Jakobsen.”
Cornell said he was required to consider the case under a Washington statute that required him to find that the police officer acted with “malice” in order to bring criminal charges. That law was among the most stringent in the country governing police shootings and, according to some prosecutors, made it virtually impossible to charge a police officer with a crime for shooting someone.
Peters was shot on Oct. 23, 2018, two weeks before voters passed Initiative 940, which removed the “malice” standard and changed how police shootings are investigated and prosecuted. Cornell said he did not consider whether he could have charged Wallin under the new law. “It would have been an academic exercise,” he said.
Peters’ parents, Jayni and Carl Peters, have filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Wallin and the sheriff’s office. The lawsuit alleges that, at the time he was shot, Nickolas Peters “was not threatening the deputies” and that they should have resorted to less-than-lethal force, if force was necessary. The parents’ attorneys, Phil Arnold and Jeff Campiche, harshly criticized Cornell’s decision not to file criminal charges against the deputy, who they say has a history of discipline and allegations of use of excessive force.
“The fault lies in the process where prosecutors have an incestuous relationship with the police who act as teammates in the prosecution of suspect,” Campiche said in a written statement. In this case, he said, officers yelled conflicting orders at Peters, who no longer posed a threat because his vehicle was pinned and had nowhere to go. “He should have been arrested, not killed.”
Wallin remains on administrative leave after the shooting, pending an internal investigation by the sheriff’s office, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton. Documents obtained by The Seattle Times indicate that Wallin has refused to discuss the shooting, even after he was compelled to give a statement by Sheriff Ty Trenary under threat of discipline.