VANCOUVER, WA (KPTV) - A Clark County judge issued a statement apologizing for making critical comments about Kevin Peterson Jr., a black man killed in an officer-involved shooting in Hazel Dell.
The comments by Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman were made in his courtroom while a camera was streaming live on YouTube. FOX 12 obtained the video from Clark County District Court.
Zimmerman said Tuesday that he would be taking “some time off” to reflect on the comments he made about Peterson and his family and “determine what I can do to help heal the community I have served.”
The judge’s comments caught on camera included, “it’s going on five months now” about the Peterson case. When someone asked who Kevin Peterson is, the judge replied, “The Black guy they’re trying to make an angel out of.”
The judge didn’t realize his comments were streaming online.
Zimmerman’s statement Tuesday said, in part, “I have always prided myself in being open-minded, fair and just in my duties as a judicial officer. I do understand that even my personal comments, when made public, bring about an outcry of concern because I am a judicial officer.”
Peterson was shot and killed by deputies in Hazel Dell on Oct. 29, 2020. The day after the shooting, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins stated Peterson, “reportedly fired his weapon at the deputies,” but an investigative report later stated, “Detectives do not have evidence that Peterson fired the handgun.” A .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun was found near Peterson’s body, but investigators said no .40 caliber casings were recovered.
The case began with the Clark County Regional Drug Task Force attempting to arrest Peterson for selling Xanax, according to investigators. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Zimmerman’s son was a detective assigned to the Clark County Regional Drug Task Force and was involved in the investigation at the time Peterson was shot.
Zimmerman’s comments caught on camera included the judge saying Peterson had a “death wish” and called him “dumb” for thinking he would go to prison for a relatively small drug bust.
“He told me that KP’s dad said, ‘well yeah if he had a gun then I guess it was justified.’ The next day he wakes up with dollars signs in his eyes and George Floyd’s attorneys had already contacted him,” Zimmerman said in the video.
Zimmerman’s statement Tuesday says, “I was speaking as a father, about my concerns the delay by 5 months for the investigation to be completed; of a need for closure about Mr. Peterson’s death, which was very tragic, and why it is necessary for that information released to the public to be accurate, so that everyone, including the police get a fair evaluation of what happened.”
“My concerns as a father do not excuse the fact that my comments caused an already volatile community to again become divisive. I am very sorry for that,” Zimmerman stated.
Zimmerman said he has self-reported his comments to the Commission of Judicial Conduct, which has the power to investigate his actions. The commission can also make a recommendation to the Washington Supreme Court to take action against him.
The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Action and Reform Committee issued a statement saying, in part, “The comments by Judge Zimmerman regarding Kevin Peterson Jr. were deeply troubling. His comments show that he cannot be impartial and unbiased; therefore, we agree with the others who have spoken out on this issue, he is not qualified to remain a judge.”
The committee cited the Clark County District Court Bench, Vancouver Defenders, the Clark County Bar Association, and the NAACP Vancouver as other entities who have spoken out on the judge’s comments.