The 38-year-old suspect’s grandmother described him as “troubled.” The slain Tacoma officer has been identified as Reginald J. Gutierrez, 45, who joined the department in 1999.
[Updated story: Tacoma officer sacrificed himself to save others, says witness]
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 the officer who was killed repeatedly yelled, “Get out! Get out!” to his partner and the woman as shots were fired. Croskey said she had run downstairs and “heard the shells bouncing off the floor” above her head.
She said the incident began when police were called to the home in the 400 block of East 52nd Street after the man living there had locked his wife out of the house. She identified him as Bruce Randall “Zeus” Johnson II, 38. One relative described him as “troubled.”
Croskey, who owns the home, said Johnson was a renter who she knew through family, church and a Tacoma barber shop. She said police called her to see if she had a spare key and she agreed to meet the officers at the home.
“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 and announced herself, saying she was there with the police to let his wife in. Johnson, she said, answered and seemed surprised that officers had been called.
Gutierrez entered the home and began walking up a staircase at the front of the home, with the intention of talking to the resident and checking the welfare of the couples’ two children, who were upstairs. His sidearm was holstered and everything seemed under control, Croskey 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.”
Tacoma Police Chief Donald Ramsdell said Gutierrez’s partner, a female officer, returned fire and ran from the house. Her name was not released, but Ramsdell said she is 42 and has been with the department since 2002. He said he didn’t know if Johnson was hit by the officer’s return fire.
Gutierrez’s shooting touched off an 11-hour standoff that ended when the suspect was killed about 3:30 a.m. Thursday after a SWAT team surrounded the three-story house, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer. Police said Johnson used two children as human shields.
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“We were able to get the suspect cornered and trapped, even though he had two kids,” Troyer told media near the scene. “One of our officers felt he had a shot and took it.”
Troyer said the suspect refused to surrender during negotiations with officials.
The two children, believed to be a 6-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl, were unharmed during the confrontation and were taken from the home, where multiple weapons were found, Troyer said.
Police are unsure of the relationship between the suspect and the two children, spokeswoman Loretta Cool said during a news conference Thursday morning. However, a relative identified them as Johnson’s children.
By late Wednesday, authorities said they knew the suspect was using the children as a shield. Their mother was able to get out of the house Gutierrez was shot and before Johnson barricaded himself inside.
“We were able to get in the house and get one of the kids away from him,” Troyer said. “We had a SWAT member who had a clear shot. We fired one round, which struck him, and we were able to rescue the second kid. … This could have been a lot worse.”
The deputy fired the single shot from outside the house.
Johnson was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Pierce County sheriff’s deputy who fired the shot that killed the suspect has been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure.
Chief Ramsdell said Thursday that Gutierrez was 45 years old and joined the department in 1999. Previously, 10 Tacoma Police Department officers have been killed in the line of duty.
Cool, the police spokeswoman, said Gutierrez was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“We’ve suffered a great loss and I think the community has suffered a great loss. I don’t know how to put that into words,” Cool said.
After the death of Gutierrez, a procession of law-enforcement officers from around the region escorted the body from the hospital to the county medical examiner’s office.
Cool said the officer had been undergoing surgery before the death was announced.
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.”
Neighbors who live in the neighborhood were out and talking to each other Thursday morning. Mark Harris lives a few blocks away from the shooting scene and watched the standoff drag on for hours. He said the death of Gutierrez was devastating.
Croskey, the homeowner, said Johnson had moved into the house several months ago with his wife and children after she had put the home up for sale. She said he had been a housesitter after she moved out, paying only utilities.
Croskey said she did not know 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 over 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.”
Johnson worked at Sam and Terry’s Barbershop.
William Standley, 27, who works at the barbershop, said Johnson worked there for about eight months. Johnson’s chair was next to Standley’s.
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 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.”
At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland noted the outpouring of love and support in the community, saying, “This city is now united are we are resilient.”
“We will miss Officer Gutierrez,” she said.
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.
Wednesday’s incident came seven years and one day after four Lakewood police officers were fatally shot at a coffee shop in the Parkland area of unincorporated Pierce County.
After a two-day manhunt, suspect Maurice Clemmons was shot and killed by police in South Seattle.