The parents of a 24-year-old man fatally shot by a Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputy in 2018 have settled their federal lawsuit against the county for $1 million, according to the family’s attorney.
In July, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell issued a six-page memorandum that states the use of deadly force against Nickolas Michael Peters was justified under the circumstances and the law that was in place at the time. Also in July, Peters’ parents filed a federal lawsuit against Deputy Art Wallin, the sheriff’s office and Snohomish County, alleging Peters’ civil rights were violated and that the county and sheriff are liable for the excessive force.
Then in October, former Sheriff Ty Trenary fired Wallin, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, after determining Wallin violated sheriff’s office policies when he initiated a vehicle pursuit on Oct. 23, 2018, and used unauthorized force when he twice fired into the windshield of the stopped pickup, killing Peters, who was behind the wheel.
“The family felt the firing of the deputy sheriff, the conclusion he’d violated sheriff’s office policies in the use of deadly force, and the $1 million (settlement) is a clear statement it was wrong to kill their kid,” attorney Jeff Campiche said. “They always felt Nick should’ve been arrested and punished for what he did but not executed.”
Campiche commended the sheriff’s office for conducting a thorough investigation and noted a number of Wallin’s claims about the shooting were disproved by evidence. For instance, he said Wallin claimed he warned Peters several times he would shoot if Peters didn’t comply with his orders. But “the audio clearly shows (Wallin) didn’t do that,” Campiche said.
The prosecutor’s office, which represented the county, does not comment on litigation, said Deputy Prosecutor Bridget Casey, one of the attorneys involved in the case.
In an Oct. 3 letter obtained by The Seattle Times, Trenary outlined the sequence of events that started with a disturbance call just after 10 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2018:
On his way to the call in the Kennard Corner area of unincorporated Snohomish County, Wallin saw a Ford F-150 being recklessly driven, with erratic speed and lane changes.
Wallin initiated a traffic stop and the pickup’s driver turned into a dead-end street and appeared to stop. As Wallin told dispatch the vehicle had been “reckless” and the driver was refusing orders to show his hands, the pickup accelerated past the deputy and his vehicle. Wallin then turned his car around and pursued the pickup based on “reckless driving,” the letter says.
“However, your decision to engage in the pursuit at all at this point was not in accord with SCSO policy because our policy clearly states that you may not initiate a pursuit based solely on reckless driving,” Trenary wrote. (A sergeant who failed to call off the pursuit was also disciplined by the sheriff, the letter says.)
The pursuit lasted just over two minutes. Deputy Mark Stich joined in, and both he and Wallin couldn’t stop the pickup. The pickup ultimately went off the road, onto the sidewalk and into some trees and bushes along North Damson Road, south of Highway 524.
When it appeared the driver was attempting to flee again, Stich used his patrol car to ram the front of the F-150, pushing it into the foliage, according to the letter.
Both Wallin and Stich got out of their patrol cars and ordered Peters to shut off the engine and show his hands. Peters ignored the commands and revved his engine for several seconds before shutting it off. When Stich saw Peters try to open the driver’s door, Stich climbed over his patrol car onto the pickup’s hood to stop him from running away, the letter says. As he climbed, Stich looked into the truck’s cab and did not see any weapons.
Eighteen seconds after the truck was stopped and 10 seconds after the engine was turned off, Wallin fired twice into the windshield, striking Peters in the right arm. One of those bullets entered his chest cavity, killing him.
In a later written statement and interview, Wallin said he fired because he believed Peters had restarted his engine and that Stich was in danger of being run over or pinned between the pickup and patrol car. After the shooting, investigators found the pickup’s ignition in the “off” position and Stich did not recall the truck being restarted, the letter says. Wallin later claimed he believed he was the one who put the pickup in park and turned off the engine.