SPOKANE, Wash. — The family of a Marshallese man who Spokane police shot and killed in January want to sue the city for as much as $23 million. Police said the man was holding a knife to an infant before police shot him, but a claim filed by the family suggests that may not be the case.
The family of 23-year-old Peterson Kamo filed a tort claim against the city of Spokane in August for his death. This is the first step before formally filing a lawsuit.
The Spokane Police Department (SPD) received a call from a hysterical woman on the afternoon of Jan. 24. The woman reportedly told police that her baby was dead, but a language barrier made it difficult for police to obtain substantial information.
When officers arrived at a house on the 2400 block of East Desmet Avenue, they said a man, later identified as Kamo, was outside the home holding a knife to an infant. Officers tried to de-escalate the situation but said Kamo ultimately went upstairs with the infant. Responding officers said they believed the man might attempt to light a kerosene can and cause an explosion.
Officers went inside the house and engaged with the man at the top of the stairs. During the encounter, SPD officers shot and ultimately killed Kamo.
The tort claim filed by Kamo's family suggested that if the officers had taken more time to better understand the situation, he would not have been killed.
Bill Gilbert, the Kamo family's attorney, told KREM 2 they are frustrated that investigators never interviewed any of them to understand the context of what was happening at the time.
According to the tort claim, Kamo's brother died approximately one week before the shooting and the family was in mourning. Kamo, who was particularly close with his brother, was "grieving and frustrated."
On the morning of the shooting, the claim said Kamo wanted to go for a drive in the family car, but his parents would not let him because he was so upset. This caused an argument to break out between Kamo and his father, who ultimately ended up outside the home in the driveway. The tort claim said Kamo's mother was worried the fight would become physical, which led her to call the police.
Because Kamo's mother spoke little English, the 911 dispatcher was not able to clearly understand her concerns. The tort claim said the 911 dispatcher was under the impression that an intruder had entered the home, taken the baby and may have been threatening its life.
At the time, Kamo was the only adult on the property who spoke fluent English, according to the tort claim.
"Because no one took the time to really speak with [Kamo's family] to try and find out what was going on- no one understood the actual facts and circumstances in the moment," the claim said. "Despite not having a full grasp of the situation, three officers entered the residence in a tactical stack and proceeded up the stairs to confront Peterson Kamo; whom, it appears, was presumed to be some sort of threat. (he was not)."
By the time police arrived, Kamo had already gone back into the house, picked up his two-year-old nephew and gone upstairs. According to the claim, police entered the home after Kamo was already upstairs with his nephew, although SPD initially reported that Kamo went upstairs after they tried to make contact with him.
Gilbert told KREM 2 that he has seen police bodycam footage from the shooting. Based on this, he said Peterson was holding his nephew when police shot him six times. His nephew was not hurt.
According to the claim, officers dragged Kamo down the stairs of the house, face down and handcuffed, and dragged him across the driveway in front of the family.
The claim does not clearly state whether Kamo was holding a knife at the time of the shooting, but the investigating agency said a knife was found next to his body.
The Kamo family is asking the city of Spokane for up to $23 million in damages. According to the claim, "a jury could get angry and award significantly more than this."
"They want justice for Peterson, for the family, and to just raise attention to the fact that these things are happening," Gilbert said. "They happen across America all the time- not all the time, but enough."
The city has 60 days to respond to the tort claim.
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