A Washington state judge is facing calls for his resignation after a video of him making disparaging comments about a Black man fatally shot by police last year was posted online.
Clark County District Court Darvin Zimmerman is facing criticism for his recoded courtroom comments about 21-year-old Kevin Peterson Jr., a Black man who died after being shot four times by police in October.
Zimmerman called Peterson “the Black guy they were trying to make an angel out of,” and said he believed he had a death wish and “was so dumb.”
The footage was posted to YouTube and viewable for several hours.
In a statement in response to Zimmerman’s comments, the court condemned racism. “Racial bias displayed by a judge is unacceptable, unethical, unjust and cannot be tolerated,” the court said, adding that it “denounces all forms of racism and will not allow racial bias to pervade our courtrooms.”
“Until all members of our community feel safe in our court and have trust in our system, we have not done our jobs. We shall strive for a system rooted in equity and fairness,” the statement said.
According to court records, Peterson was shot by three Clark County deputies on Oct. 29 after he allegedly sold 50 Xanax pills in a sting arranged by a confidential informant the week prior.
Two deputies who were members of a drug task force tried to arrest Peterson from his car in a parking lot, but he exited the car and fled on foot. Peterson was carrying a .40-caliber Glock pistol but authorities found no evidence that he fired the weapon before deputies fired 34 rounds, striking him four times.
Zimmerman’s son, a member of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, was on the scene but did not fire any shots.
Zimmerman made the comments while speaking with District Court Commissioner Abbie Bartlett in an empty courtroom on March 9.
During the conversation, Zimmerman alleged that Peterson’s father had told a police chaplain he thought the shooting was justified but, “the next day, he wakes up with dollar signs in his eyes and George Floyd’s attorneys had already contacted him.”
He added that he believed setting up a GoFundMe Page that claimed Peterson was unarmed was “like getting money under false pretenses.”
Zimmerman described Peterson as “the one that said ‘I’m a racist. I hate white people,’ so I guess he hates his girlfriend, too.”
He mentioned that his son “could have been the shooter,” then laughed, adding, “And they’d be marching out at his house with signs saying, ‘You’re a murderer.’”
A livestream from the courtroom was being broadcast amid the pandemic in adherence with the state’s open courtroom laws.
In response to The Columbian’s request for comment regarding his remarks, Zimmerman said, “any time we lose a life, it is a tragedy; Kevin Peterson is no exception.” The judge did not acknowledge the statements or issue an apology.
In a statement, the Vancouver Defenders law firm called for the judge to resign. “Judge Zimmerman’s conduct erodes the public’s confidence in our judicial system. A judge’s independence, integrity, and impartiality are paramount in making our system work. When a Judge fails to uphold the canons of his profession he is no longer fit to serve. Judge Zimmerman should resign.”