Clint Peterson Was Killed by Police While Running Away

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Yet they knew the toy gun could cause trouble. Scroggins once saw him carrying it in his waistband. To her it looked real.

"I said, 'You have a gun? Oh my God, you have no business with a gun,'" Scroggins recalled.

Shyanna Gallegos said she could tell by just looking that it was an airsoft gun. "He came up to me acting like some kind of badass, he's like, 'I got this gun, I found it,'" she says. "I'm like, 'That's fake,' and he goes, 'No it ain't.' 'I'm like, Clint that's fake, I'm not an idiot.'" She grabbed it out of his hand, and shook it, hearing plastic toy pellets inside. He told her he found it in a trash bin. Gallegos saw a crack in the side. She tried to pull the trigger but it was jammed.

Suspects who hold guns in front of police — real or fake — are likely to end up getting shot, even if they are fleeing. "If a guy has a gun, they're entitled to shoot him. The courts won't second guess the cop in that kind of dangerous situation," says Harrington, the civil rights attorney.

Yet the witnesses insist he never pointed it at officers. They say they're still not sure if he even had it on him the morning he died.

The police came quickly that morning. Debra Gallegos was still on the phone with 911. Her daughter ran downstairs with Peterson's cigarette but he already walked off and was several houses away. There were two officers, one on a motorcycle and one in a squad car. They parked a few houses down, in front of the address where Peterson would soon die.

The whole confrontation happened quickly. "They weren't prepared, they weren't prepared at all," Debra Gallegos says. It was the one on the motorcycle who got the women's attention. "He came with a hot head," she adds.

Shyanna Gallegos, the one closest to the officers, says the motorcycle officer stumbled off his bike with his hand already on his weapon. She says she heard him ask, "Hey can you talk?" but didn't give Peterson a chance to respond. She began running toward them, telling them, "Don't shoot." Her mom and Melissa Peterson were behind her. Peterson, with his hands in his pockets, backed away.

They heard a Taser fired and then saw a Taser prong tangled in the trees. Peterson dodged it, turned and ran around a tree. The officers quickly closed in, and one of them, just a yard away from Peterson, fired at him. The second bullet caused his body to lunge forward onto the driveway.

Debra Gallegos says she stayed on the phone with 911 the whole time. "I said, 'I thought I told you that it was a fake gun, if he even had one,'" Gallegos says.

Shyanna Gallegos got to the scene first, and a moment later, the two other women ran up. Gallegos says she asked the officer why he shot Peterson, and the officer, still holding his gun, was "freaking out," repeating "I don't know," and then "because he ran."

Told about the witnesses' story, Chief Brown says he can't comment on it until all the official investigations into the shooting are finished. "People are going to have their opinions of what took place, and I respect that. They're giving you their account of what occurred," Brown says. "So what I want to do is take the whole puzzle, and make decisions from the whole puzzle, not just pieces of it."

The only investigative document released to the public so far is the preliminary cause of death sheet, which says that Peterson died of a gunshot wound to the head. Brown says he hasn't seen that, though it was obtained by the Observer. "Where he was shot, how many times he was shot, the part of body, I don't have any of that information," Brown says.

The women begged the officers to check on Peterson. "They didn't even check to see if he was dead or alive. They didn't even touch him," his sister says. Shyanna ran around and tried to grab his hand. They say the officer from the motorcycle tugged on her shirt and pulled her away.

What particularly troubles the witnesses is that dozens more police officers showed up in cars just minutes later. If that whole group had come at once, earlier, maybe they could have caught Peterson at the end of the block alive. "They should have been prepared and not sent one officer on that motorcycle and another one in a patrol car. They should have had more substantial resources than what they brought on," Debra Gallegos says. Within 15 minutes, they say, the ambulance came, but Peterson was clearly dead.

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn