Tacoma police officer Jake Gutierrez was shot and killed by a suspect on November 30, 2016. Now his daughters are taking his own department to task; claiming his death could have and should have been prevented.
Yesterday, they filed a suit against the Tacoma Police department. The daughters say the department and fellow officers let their father down in a series of missteps that ultimately led to his death.
“Not only have we lost a father,” said Victoria Gutierrez. “We lost our best friend.”
Victoria and sister Gabriella Cothran were standing on the steps of the Pierce County courthouse with a picture of their father.
“We just know that it could have been prevented if other things were followed,” said Gabriella.
Through their attorneys, the sisters provided two items they say are key to what could have prevented their father’s death. One is an arrest warrant for Bruce Johnson that was never acted upon.
Johnson killed the 17-year veteran Tacoma police officer after an hours-long standoff, in which he was using two children as shields.
According to local news affiliates KIRO and KOKO, police said the incident started in the afternoon when animal-control officers were working near a house in Tacoma’s Eastside neighborhood. They were approached by a woman who said her husband had locked her out and taken her phone.
Those officers called police.
Officer Gutierrez along with his partner, went inside the home. As Gutierrez reached the top of the stairs in attempt to speak with the man, the officer was shot. His partner was able to safely lead the suspect’s wife out of the house.
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Christine Croskey, the homeowner who was letting the gunman and his wife live in the home until she sold it, was in the basement to collect items, she told KIRO 7 News. She barricaded herself in the bathroom during the shooting and escaped.
Croskey could not share much information, not wanting to not interfere with Tacoma Police investigations, but she did say:
“I don’t want to hear anything about black lives matter, because all lives matter. I want to say the Tacoma Police Department handled this matter with such professionalism… despite one of their own being shot,” she said.
Even as officers were saluting Gutierrez’s procession outside Tacoma General Hospital, devastated law enforcement officers worked at the scene of the shooting where Johnson refused to surrender. At one point, there were roughly 185 officers and gents on the scene, working to bring the standoff to an end.
By 4 p.m., officers stormed into the house. A deputy got a clean shot at Johnson, firing one round that killed him.
Johnson was arrested in 2015 for investigation of assault/intimidation with a weapon.
The second item presented by the family’s attorneys is an “officer safety alert” issued two weeks before the shooting, but the family says Gutierrez never got it.
“If protocols were followed our father would be here today and since they weren’t followed, we have suffered a great loss in our lives,” said Victoria.
The lawsuit alludes to an episode at the Tacoma Mall on October 15, 2016, just weeks before the shooting. Police said that:
“Johnson can be seen walking down the mall with a weapons case, a sheriff’s hat and handcuffs.”
Tacoma police later stopped his car just in front of the mall. Despite the previously mentioned arrest warrant, the lawsuit said the Tacoma officers did not arrest him.
“The TPD officers then handed that 20-gauge shotgun back to Bruce Johnson and that ultimately was the weapon that the medical examiner determined killed Jake Gutierrez on Nov. 30, 2016,” said Loren Cochran, the family’s attorney.
The department did, however, issue that officer safety alert meant to give officers a heads-up should they encounter Johnson. The daughters say their father never got the warning.
“Our dad was a police officer forever,” said Gabriella. “He knew when there was a threat. It’s their job to make him aware and if he was made aware, we wouldn’t even be here.”
The city of Tacoma released the following statement:
“The City is aware of the lawsuit related to Jake’s death from members of his family. The City’s Legal Department has evaluated the claims being asserted, and while we are deeply sorry, and share his family’s tremendous sense of loss, the facts alleged in this lawsuit are simply insufficient to support liability against the City.”