Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary has fired a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s office in connection with a 2018 high-speed pursuit that culminated in the fatal shooting of a 24-year-old man north of Bothell.
The decision differed sharply from the one made nearly three months ago, when the Snohomish County prosecutor decided not to file criminal charges against the deputy, Art Wallin, 38, concluding a jury would have found the shooting justified.
In a nine-page letter obtained by The Seattle Times, Trenary determined Wallin violated sheriff’s office policies when he initiated a vehicle pursuit on Oct. 23, 2018, then used unauthorized force when he twice fired into the windshield of the stopped pickup, killing the driver, Nickolas Peters.
According to the letter, dated Oct. 3, Trenary wasn’t convinced by Wallin’s later 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.
“Circumstances when there is reasonable cause to believe a suspect has a weapon would include, among other things, when there is a witness account of a weapon being used in a crime, when there are verbal threats made by a suspect indicating they have a weapon, or when a law enforcement officer can articulate beyond their ‘Spidey sense’ that a weapon exists,” Trenary wrote. “None of those circumstances were present here. Simply put, furtive movement, combined only with an officer’s ‘intuition,’ is not enough to justify deadly force.”
Shari Ireton, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), confirmed Wallin’s firing on Friday. She declined further comment, saying, “we will let the letter stand for itself.”
Trenary’s recitation of the facts leading up to the shooting and conclusion that Wallin was not justified in using deadly force was in stark contrast to the July decision by Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell not to seek criminal charges against Wallin. Cornell concluded a jury would find that Wallin was justified in shooting Peters to end a deadly threat.
The prosecutor’s office did not respond Friday to a message seeking comment.
Also in July, Peters’ parents filed a federal lawsuit against 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. They are seeking $20 million in general and punitive damages.
Reached by phone on Friday, Wallin said he is fighting to get his job back.
“Unfortunately, due to the civil litigation and the grievance process and attempting to get my job back, I can’t really go into any details,” he said. “I don’t feel the termination was right.”
Jeffery Campiche and Philip Arnold, the Seattle attorneys representing Peters’ parents, commended the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team (SMART) and the sheriff’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) for conducting a thorough and fair investigation, which was completed in June..
“The removal of the deputy sheriff … is the right thing to do and shows a maturity and fairness in the sheriff’s office to do their duty and their job, which is to make the community safer,” Campiche said.
Arnold said Wallin’s firing “certainly supports our case and is consistent with the facts as we know them.”
Trenary’s letter outlines the sequence of events that started with a disturbance call just after 10 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2018:
Deputies were responding to a residence in the 19500 block of Sixth Drive Southeast, east of Interstate 405 in the Kennard Corner area of unincorporated Snohomish County. Wallin was among the first deputies to respond and on his way there, he 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 turned his car around and started pursuit based on “reckless driving,” providing dispatch with the pickup’s description and direction of travel, 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 the pursuit, and both he and Wallin couldn’t stop the pickup. The pursuit ended when the pickup 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.
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. 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 compelled 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 re-started, the letter says. Wallin later claimed he believed he was the one who put the pickup in park and turned off the engine.
Through his attorney, Wallin also questioned the integrity of the investigation into the shooting, but the sheriff found no evidence of bias, the letter says.
The letter notes Wallin was disciplined twice in 2018 for injuring people and violating policy, once for using his police dog on a suspect and, later, running over a woman’s hand while responding to a high-risk traffic stop. In 2016, also following a police pursuit, Wallin was required to undergo additional training after he made comments indicating he had a poor understanding of when the use of deadly force was justified, the sheriff’s letter says.
In explaining his decision to fire Wallin, Trenary wrote:
“The loss of life in this incident is something that simply cannot be ignored. Regardless of the circumstances, or the suspect’s role in this incident, the use of deadly force is to be done with great reservation,” he wrote. “Using it here, when the events do not appear to have warranted it, is more than just a regrettable mistake, it is a loss that cannot be undone.”
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which also contains information from Seattle Times archives.