Tacoma police Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez saved lives by warning his partner and the gunman’s wife to “Get out!” amid a hail of gunfire that claimed the officer’s life, a witness says.
TACOMA — A woman who witnessed Wednesday’s shooting of Tacoma police Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez said he sacrificed himself to save his partner and the wife of the man who opened fire.
Kristi Croskey said Gutierrez repeatedly yelled, “Get out! Get out!” to his partner and the woman as shots were fired from an upstairs landing at an East Tacoma home. Croskey was downstairs when she “heard the shells bouncing off the floor” above her head.
Gutierrez, 45, a 17-year department veteran known for his ability to defuse tense domestic-violence situations, collapsed inside the home as his partner returned fire and led the man’s wife outside to safety. Croskey hid in a downstairs bathroom before fleeing.
The gunman, identified by family and friends as Bruce Randall “Zeus” Johnson II, 38, was killed early Thursday morning by a sheriff’s sniper following an 11-hour standoff in which police say he used his two children, ages 6 and 8, as human shields. Both children were rescued unharmed, said Tacoma police spokesman Ed Troyer. Police said they found several weapons inside the home.
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The death of Gutierrez, the first Tacoma officer to die from gunfire since 1997, prompted Mayor Marilyn Strickland to order the city’s flags to be lowered to half-staff on Thursday, and the loss was the focus of two emotional candlelight vigils.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Officer Gutierrez, and on behalf of our entire city we offer our sincere condolences to his family, his loved ones and the men and women who wear the Tacoma Police Department badge,” the mayor said in a statement.
One relative described Johnson as “troubled.” He had once taken an anger-management class after he was involved in a 2015 altercation outside a marijuana store in which he was armed with a handgun.
Croskey, the homeowner who witnessed the shooting, said Johnson had moved into the home several months ago, after she moved out and put it up for sale. He had been living there with his wife and children and had been paying the utility bills. She knew him through family, church and a popular Tacoma barbershop where he had been working.
Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell said the officers were called to the home in the 400 block of East 52nd Street by an animal-control officer who had responded to a report of an injured dog. The animal-control officer had encountered a woman who said she had been locked out of the house during an argument and that her telephone was inside.
Gutierrez and his partner responded, and then contacted Croskey to get a spare key to the home. Croskey said she drove to the three-story house and met the officers outside.
“They just wanted to explain to him that he couldn’t lock his wife out like this,” she said Thursday morning. “They weren’t upset. It was all very routine.”
Croskey said she knocked on the door, opened it and announced herself, saying she was there with the police to let his wife in. Johnson, who was standing at the top of some stairs, seemed surprised that officers had been called, she said.
Gutierrez entered the home and began walking up the staircase at the front of the home, with the intention of talking to the resident and checking the welfare of the couple’s two children, who were upstairs, Croskey said. His sidearm was holstered and everything seemed under control, she said.
That’s when gunfire erupted.
“He (the suspect) started shooting down the staircase,” Croskey said.
She had retreated to a bathroom downstairs and said she did not see the officer fall. “I would have been shot, too.”
Ramsdell said Gutierrez’s partner returned fire before leaving the house. His partner’s name was not released, but Ramsdell said she is 42 and has been with the department since 2002.
He said he didn’t know whether Johnson was hit by the officer’s return fire.
A SWAT team surrounded the house while police tried to talk Johnson out without luck.
A rescue “Go Team” consisting of two Tacoma officers and two Pierce County deputies went into the home and retrieved the mortally wounded Gutierrez. He was taken to the hospital, where he died late Wednesday night while undergoing surgery, according to Tacoma police spokeswoman Officer Loretta Cool.
“There was some conversation with the suspect, and they thought he was coming out willingly,” Ramsdell said of police negotiations with Johnson. Eventually, after he failed to give up, a decision was made to shoot if the opportunity presented itself.
Troyer said officers were able to rescue one of the children, but that the other remained in danger, which led to the decision to use deadly force.
“We were able to get in the house and get one of the kids away from him” even as officers were “able to get the suspect cornered and trapped.”
“We had a SWAT member who had a clear shot … and he took it. We fired one round, which struck him, and we were able to rescue the second kid,” Troyer said. “This could have been a lot worse.”
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The deputy fired the single shot from outside the house shortly after 3:30 a.m.
Johnson was pronounced dead at the scene.
The sheriff’s deputy who fired the shot has been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure.
In a statement, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he and his wife, Trudi, were sending their thoughts and prayers to the family and loved ones of the officer.
“All of Washington grieves with Tacoma, which tonight lost one of their finest. Our hearts are with the men and women of the Tacoma Police Department, their families, and their brothers and sisters in law enforcement across Washington.”
Johnson worked at Sam and Terry’s Barbershop.
William Standley, 27, who works at the barbershop, said Johnson had worked there for about eight months.
He said he didn’t know Johnson that well, but he looked “like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders,” Standley said.
“He just seemed to be a troubled person,” Johnson’s grandmother, Josephine Bailey, told The (Tacoma) News Tribune.
“We couldn’t believe he’d do something that way,” Bailey told the newspaper. “We knew he was trouble, but we didn’t think he’d do anything like this.”
Johnson did not have a significant criminal history, although he was arrested in 2015 after a confrontation outside a Tacoma medical-marijuana dispensary in which he displayed a handgun and scuffled with an employee. Johnson reportedly had tried to buy marijuana without the proper identification and was asked to leave.
According to the documents, once outside the dispensary Johnson argued with the employee and at one point lifted his shirt to display a holstered handgun. A scuffle ensued and the loaded gun fell to the ground and was recovered by another store employee.
Johnson was charged with fourth-degree assault and displaying a weapon, and he was ordered to complete an eight-hour anger-management course and pay a fine; he eventually complied. The records indicate the firearm was forfeited to the police department.
Croskey, the homeowner, said she was not aware there was a gun in the house, and said she had told the resident before he moved in that weapons were forbidden.
“I do not tolerate guns. I want nothing to do with them,” she said.
She said she has no explanation for why Johnson opened fire. She described him as “intelligent, articulate and tech-savvy.”
“He was an overall good guy,” she said. “I am as surprised by this as anyone. I do not know what happened, but it just seemed to me like he was afraid.”
Croskey praised the actions of Tacoma police, telling reporters at the scene that the shooting was the result of “poor choices” on the part of Johnson, who was black.
“I don’t want to hear anything about Black Lives Matter, because all lives matter,” said Croskey, who is black. “I do not want to hear about the police officers being inhumane and shooting people unnecessary or any of those things. I want to say that the Tacoma Police Department handled this matter with such professionalism despite having one of their own shot.”
Police Chief Ramsdell, his voice cracking at times, said he was touched by support from the community and federal, state and local law enforcement.
Ramsdell said it was a privilege to work with Gutierrez, calling him a “model police officer” who was dedicated to his profession.