By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – An attempt was made to settle their differences through mediation but instead, Lewis County and the family of the unarmed man fatally shot by a deputy in Napavine two and half years ago will meet up in federal court.
The trial is on track to begin the end of this month in Tacoma in the case involving Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Matthew McKnight and the death of 33-year-old Steven V. Petersen.
Steven V. Petersen
An attorney representing Petersen’s family claims that despite the fact backup was mere seconds away, the deputy made a reckless decision to engage in an unnecessary confrontation.
The attorney representing the county and McKnight called the claims baseless when the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in October 2012. Michael A. Patterson stated McKnight made the split-second decision to shoot out of fear for the safety of himself and neighboring residents during a rapidly unfolding situation.
It happened on June 20, 2011 in Napavine, when police and deputies responded to an approximately 2 a.m. call that Petersen left stab holes in the door of his ex-girlfriend’s mobile home while trying to get inside and then left on foot.
Deputy McKnight found Petersen a few blocks away, got out of his patrol car and after Petersen refused to take his hand out of his pocket and began to charge McKnight, the deputy fired four shots, according to the account given by local authorities. Petersen had no knife.
The Napavine resident left behind a 10-year-old son.
The complaint seeks an unspecified amount of damages, but the claim that preceded it asked for as much as $10 million.
Lewis County RIsk Manager Paulette Young said the two sides met with a mediator in early January in an attempt to avoid a trial. The effort was mandated by the court, according to Young.
Still to be decided by a judge is a motion for a summary judgement which, if the county prevails, would mean dismissal of the case.
“We’re moving forward as if there is going to be a trial, because we have to prepare for it,” Young said yesterday.
It’s scheduled to begin Feb. 24 and run for seven to 10 days.
McKnight, who had been with the sheriff’s office a little more than four years, was cleared by an internal review and the county prosecutor concluded his use of deadly force was justified, based on an investigation conducted by outside law enforcement officers.
Last year, McKnight took a job with the Chehalis Police Department.
Yesterday, Young approached the Lewis County Board of Commissioners to request the county pay his wages while he attends the trial because he has no time built up with the city.
The amount would go toward the county’s deductible for its liability insurance with Washington Counties Risk Pool, she said.
The suit names Lewis County and former Deputy McKnight. It was filed by the father of the deceased, Steven O. Peterson as representative of the estate and on behalf of the younger Petersen’s son.
The plaintiffs are represented by John R. Connelly Jr. of the firm, Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma.
The Seattle law firm of Patterson, Buchanan, Fobes, Leitch and Kalzer represents the defendants.
Patterson said in a news release previously that McKnight properly complied with sheriff’s office policies and procedures, which provided adequate guidance.
Attorneys for the Petersens said when the suit was filed their investigation would focus on the sheriff’s office training, supervision and decision-making in the field when using deadly force.
They called it a ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ approach to law enforcement.
The jury trial will be presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton.
For background, read “Multi-million dollar lawsuit coming in deputy-involved shooting in Napavine” from Wednesday June 6, 2012, here