Sheriff: Fired deputy broke policy in Bothell shooting

The Snohomish County sheriff wrote there was no significant threat when deputy Art Wallin killed Nickolas Peters.

During a pursuit that ended in Bothell with the death of an Edmonds man almost a year ago, a deputy known for his composure was uncharacteristically panicked, according to others who were on duty that night.

In radio traffic recorded the night of Oct. 23, Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputy Art Wallin raised his voice as he chased a Ford F-150.

“He’s taking off again. He is all over the road. This guy’s going to kill someone,” Wallin said over the radio.

The intense encounter was brief, spanning two minutes and one mile. Wallin had to make split-second decisions, people working with him said.

The encounter ended when Wallin shot 24-year-old Nickolas Peters, who later died from his injuries at a hospital.

On Oct. 3, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary fired Wallin, who had been placed on paid administrative leave, for violating the agency’s policy.

In a nine-page decision letter obtained by Sound Publishing through a public records request, Trenary wrote that the deputy shouldn’t have chased after Peters in the first place. And, once stopped, Peters didn’t appear to present enough of a threat to warrant being shot.

The Deputy Sheriff’s Association filed a grievance Oct. 9 on behalf of Wallin, alleging that the sheriff’s office erred in its decision to fire Wallin. Next, the case will go through arbitration.

In a statement made to Sound Publishing, association president Matt Boice said the union supported Wallin “100 percent.”

“Police work forces our members to make split-second decisions, but the nature of our job sometimes places us in perilous situations,” the statement said. “If suspects would follow police commands, pull over when required and not assault anyone or engage in violent behavior, any potential use of force would be minimal or non-existent.”

Peters’ death set in motion a civil lawsuit brought by his family, as well as an investigation by the Snohomish County Multi-Agency Response Team (SMART), a task force of detectives that reviews instances in which police use potentially fatal force.

Reviewing the SMART investigation, Snohomish County prosecutor Adam Cornell declined to press charges against the deputy in July, calling the encounter a “tense, uncertain, rapidly evolving situation.” A jury would be unlikely to convict Wallin, Cornell concluded.

Represented by Seattle-based law firm Campiche Arnold, the family is seeking a jury trial and is asking for more than $20 million in damages for Peters’ death. In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that the sheriff’s office failed to adequately train its deputies to avoid deadly force when it’s unnecessary.

Attorney Jeff Campiche noted that deputies likely should have arrested Peters for his actions that night.

“But he didn’t need to be executed,” he said.

Speaking at a summer press conference, Lyndsay Peters said her life has been harder without her brother.

“There were supposed to be so many more years to make more memories for us,” she said.

Seconds to make a decision

Shortly after 10 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2018, Wallin was on his way to a disturbance call in the 19500 block of 61st Drive Southeast, east of Lynnwood. Deputies knew the house well, and that someone living there drove a Ford F-150, according to documents obtained by Sound Publishing.

So when Wallin reported over the radio that he was going after a Ford F-150, his supervisor was initially confused. He was unclear whether the truck was related to the disturbance call.

The supervisor was Sgt. Adam Fortney, who is now running against Trenary to be the county’s next sheriff.

Wallin asked the dispatcher to close the air, so no other calls made over the radio would interrupt him. He didn’t indicate that he stopped someone, according to documents.

“Reckless vehicle, non-compliant driver won’t show me his hands,” he said.

Thirteen seconds later, he spoke again.

“Gonna be in pursuit, just crashed, back on the road. I’m going to be…standby,” he said.

There was no traffic, Wallin called out. The roads were damp. He reported the truck was swerving all over and going “triple digits” as they traveled westbound on Highway 524. A man and woman, both in their 20s, were inside the vehicle.

Wallin and another deputy who joined the chase twice used their patrol cars to strike a back corner of the truck to make it spin out.

Twice, Peters regained control and drove off again.

“Alright, we gotta take this guy out, he’s going to kill someone,” Wallin said, his voice sharply raised.

Fortney had seconds to decide whether to terminate the pursuit.

“It, I was going to let it play out,” he reportedly told a SMART detective. “I didn’t know what they had but it was definitely a serious enough incident that I had to give him some of the benefit of the doubt.”

According to policy, he should have called it off, the sheriff’s office Driving Review Board recently concluded in a decision to reprimand Fortney.

The sheriff’s office reformed its pursuit policy in 2016, limiting instances in which deputies are allowed to give chase. Going after someone solely for reckless driving, as Wallin had apparently indicated, wouldn’t meet the bar under the newer rules.

But in a sometimes interview Oct. 10 with Sound Publishing, Fortney said he felt the situation could have been a matter of life or death, and that he chose to trust his deputy. The two had worked the night shift together for years, he said, and he called Wallin one of the most decorated deputies on the force.

Furthermore, Fortney said that Wallin appeared agitated in a way that he’s never seen before. Typically, Wallin remained calm as he called out updates during pursuits, “like he’s bored when he’s talking,” Fortney said.

“If I’ve got a 13-year decorated cop telling me, and I’ve never heard him say this on the radio and I work with him every night, ‘We’ve got to take this guy out, he’s going to kill somebody,’ I better damn well listen to that, and I better take it seriously,” Fortney said.

Though he couldn’t see what was happening, Fortney said he felt there was more than just reckless driving happening. If nothing else, Fortney said, Peters’ speeding and erratic driving could have indicated that he was driving under the influence. Wallin never mentioned on the radio the possibility of a DUI, according to transcripts.

Fortney said he’ll be fighting his disciplinary action with the backing of the union.

In the decision letter, Trenary cited the pursuit as one of the reasons for firing Wallin.

The second reason was the shooting.

‘Shots fired, shots fired’

Wallin pinned the truck on Highway 524 and North Damson Road, a mile away from where the pursuit began. The other deputy rammed the truck head-on, twice, into some brush.

The truck appeared immobile, but was revving loudly. The deputies got out of their patrol cars. Wallin took a position by the passenger-side door of the truck, where Peters’ girlfriend, Britt Jakobsen, sat. The other deputy jumped on the hood of the truck, where he could get a clear view of Peters, and could be in a position to stop him from running away.

The two deputies shouted conflicting commands of “turn it off” and “hands up,” according to audio collected by SMART detectives.

Jakobsen later said that she and Peters locked eyes, realizing they couldn’t comply with both commands.

The sound of the revving engine reportedly stopped. Wallin kept giving orders.

“Turn it off, turn it off,” he said, according to documents. “Hands up, hands up, hands up. Get your [expletive] hands up.”

Talking to SMART detectives, the deputy who was on the hood said that he couldn’t see Peters’ right hand. Peters didn’t appear to be complying with any order, the deputy reportedly said.

Jakobsen has disputed that claim, saying both she and Peters had their hands raised.

In a letter addressed to SMART detectives, the medical examiner’s office indicated that Peters’ right arm may have been raised between 45 and 90 degrees.

Wallin reportedly said during the internal investigation that Peters was trying to turn the truck on again. Wallin recalled saying, “Don’t do it,” and warning that he would shoot. However, that’s not heard in the audio or indicated in any other evidence supplied to investigators, Trenary wrote.

“I feared for my life and that of [the other deputy],” Wallin wrote in a statement. “I believed I was about to witness [the other deputy] get run over and killed by the suspect.”

Wallin wrote that he heard the engine rev again and saw Peters grab the shifter to pull it out of park.

It was then, he wrote, that he took aim and shot Peters through the windshield, twice. Both bullets went through Peters’ right arm. One embedded in his rib cage, while the other pierced the right lung and landed in the spine.

“Shots fired, shots fired,” someone called over the radio.

Fortney said he could hear gunshots as he and other deputies arrived. They ordered the couple to get out of the truck.

According to the SMART report, Fortney pulled Jakobsen out by her hair. Another deputy grabbed Peters by the arm. The deputy told SMART detectives that when he “felt resistance,” he punched Peters in the head.

Peters, bleeding from his shoulder, went limp. Deputies gave medical aid at the scene but he later died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The Snohomish County medical examiner determined the cause of death was two gunshot wounds. A toxicology analysis reportedly came back positive for fentanyl, amphetamine and methamphetamine.

A sergeant’s report documenting the immediate aftermath described Wallin as visibly shaken and on the verge of tears.

No imminent danger

In his decision letter, Trenary questioned Wallin’s account of the night and whether there was an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to justify the shooting.

During the internal investigation, Wallin reportedly said he believed Peters had a gun, claiming he had a “Spidey sense.”

He said the belief was based on Peters’ “furtive movements” and seeing him reach in the back of the truck during the initial traffic stop, according to documents.

However, both Wallin and the deputy who was on the hood said they never actually saw a firearm.

After obtaining a search warrant, SMART detectives discovered a loaded .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, but it was inside a green zippered case underneath the center console of the truck. They also found boxes of ammunition, drugs and drug paraphernalia.

Trenary determined there wasn’t sufficient evidence to believe that Peters was going to use a gun on the deputies, or that he even had one.

“Simply put, furtive movement, combined only with an officer’s ‘intuition’ is not enough to justify the use of deadly force,” Trenary wrote.

The sheriff also doubted Wallin’s remarks that Peters attempted to restart the truck. SMART detectives found the ignition in the off position, and the deputy on the hood didn’t recall the engine revving after it was turned off.

A SMART detective asked the second deputy if he would have felt the engine start again.

“I would imagine so,” the deputy said.

Other deputies who arrived at the scene were asked the same question. None could recall hearing the truck engine running.

Wallin reportedly stated he turned off the truck and shifted it back into park after the shooting.

The Deputy Sheriff’s Association reportedly presented audio backing Wallin’s statements, arguing that a second revving sound could be heard right before bullets were fired. Trenary wasn’t convinced.

If Peters did start the truck back up, Trenary wrote that the vehicle couldn’t make a “forceful or dangerous impact” at the time Wallin chose to fire, because it had been pinned by two patrol cars.

The sheriff’s office concluded that Wallin violated multiple policies, including “use of force” and “committing negligent acts or endangering self or others.”

Furthermore, Trenary wrote, while Wallin had positive performance evaluations and commendations in his record, as well as a medal for “Life Saving,” the deputy also has been reprimanded before.

Wallin was disciplined twice in 2018 for injuring people: once when under his command, his police dog hurt someone, and again when he ran over a woman’s hand.

The second incident took place just eight days before the encounter with Peters.

In 2016, Wallin went through extra deadly force training after the sheriff’s office reviewed another pursuit in which he was involved. During the review, Wallin “made comments indicating a poor understanding of when the use of deadly force was justified by policy and the law,” according to the sheriff’s decision.

“By the terms of this training,” Trenary wrote, “you should have known the contours of when deadly force was and was not justified, including when a threat is reasonably imminent, as opposed to merely suspected or feared.”