District Court Judge Zimmerman announces retirement

Judge faced scrutiny following comments about Black man shot by police

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A Clark County District Court judge has announced his retirement, months after he spurred controversy when a hot mic picked up comments he made about a Black man from Clark County who was killed by police in a shooting.

In a May 26 letter to Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien, judge Darvin Zimmerman announced his intent to retire from the bench. Though he wrote he “thoroughly enjoyed serving the public and coming to the courthouse campus for nearly 43 years,” he felt “sadness in that this will soon come to an end.”

“I wanted to give the county the courtesy of knowing there will be two … District Court judge positions to replace,” Zimmerman wrote.

Fellow Judge John Hagensen is retiring June 30.

Zimmerman included a comment from an unidentified “local and distinguished judge” where Zimmerman was described as always being “fair, just, well informed, highly ethical and conscientious.”

Zimmerman had come under scrutiny after he made comments about Kevin Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old Camas man who was shot to death by Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Oct. 29 in Hazel Dell during a drug sting. He referred to Peterson as “the Black guy that they’re trying to make an angel out of,” noting that his son, a sheriff’s deputy, was on scene during the fatal shooting.

Zimmerman said he heard reports from those at the scene that Peterson’s father had spoken to responders in a more conciliatory tone than how he would speak during a press conference later that month where he and other members of Peterson’s family announced they were filing a tort claim against Clark County.

“The next thing he wakes up with dollar signs in his eyes,” Zimmerman remarked in the recording.

The judge also made statements questioning the narrative from the mother of Peterson’s child as well as the number of times Peterson was shot.

The comments were caught on a hot mic in a Clark County courtroom in March. Following the discovery of the recording, a number of organizations ranging from community members to fellow judges came out with statements decrying Zimmerman’s comments. They included 11 Clark County Superior Court judges and the County Prosecuting Attorney Action and Reform Committee.

“The comments by Judge Zimmerman regarding Kevin Peterson Jr. were deeply troubling,” the statement from the committee read. “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.”

Zimmerman took a leave of absence from the bench when the comments were discovered.

“I deeply regret my statements which caused divisiveness and concern in the community that I love and serve,” Zimmerman wrote in his own statement in March.

Sent via his lawyer, Josephine Townsend, the judge pointed to his history supporting the community through therapeutic courts such as the Veteran’s Court, Mental Health Court and pre-arrest diversion programs.

“I recognize the injustice that befalls men and women of color as well as non-native English speaking litigants,” Zimmerman wrote.

He said he was “speaking as a father” about concerns on the delayed nature of the investigation, which had been ongoing since October, “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.”

Zimmerman’s incident was forwarded to the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct, though it was unclear if the case has been discussed. In his retirement letter, the judge referred to members of the public who voiced their anger toward him and the comments he made.

“To those that have taken the time to wish me harm or even death, may God (b)less you,” Zimmerman wrote. “If you really knew me, you would know that I speak out for issues you might support.”

The judge said he would continue to advocate for veterans and speak out about inadequate mental health response in Washington, adding he would continue to promote the use of mental health responders to aid police.

Zimmerman wrote he was “not vacationing, but working on numerous community projects” and scheduling medical procedures. He did not give an official retirement date, which was pending discussions with medical professionals.

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