Slain officer's family sues, says death 'highly preventable'

Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez, 45, was fatally shot Nov. 30, 2016, while responding to a domestic violence call


By Alexis Krell
The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

TACOMA, Wash. — The family of a Tacoma police officer killed in the line of duty filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city Monday.

Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez, 45, was fatally shot Nov. 30, 2016, while responding to a domestic violence call.

Gutierrez’s three adult daughters argue police should have arrested the killer two weeks prior, when he brought a shotgun to the Tacoma Mall.

“This lawsuit is brought by Jake Gutierrez’s daughters seeking answers to fundamental questions about officer safety and accountability for the negligence and gross negligence which resulted in the highly preventable death of their father,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit Gabriella Cothran, Victoria Gutierrez and Antonia Gutierrez filed in Pierce County Superior Court seeks unspecified damages. A claim they filed as a precursor to the lawsuit sought $21 million.

Jake Gutierrez never got an officer safety notice that police issued about the suspect, the lawsuit alleges.

“The Gutierrez sisters want to know why that wasn’t conveyed to their father,” one of their attorneys, Loren Cochran, said at a press conference Monday.

Two of the sisters also spoke.

“We’re just really trying to find out what happened,” Cothran said. “... We just know that it could have been prevented.”

“Not only have we lost a father, we’ve lost our best friend,” Victoria Gutierrez told reporters.

The city said in a statement Monday that it was aware of the lawsuit.

“... 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,” the statement said.

The press release also said that Gutierrez: “was an outstanding officer, respected for the many contributions and impacts that he made on the lives of others each and every day he came to work. For all of us who knew Jake, it was definitely a privilege working with him and calling him a friend.”

The lawsuit gives this account:

Bruce Randall Johnson II, 38, brought a shotgun into the Tacoma Mall on Nov. 15, 2016. He was wearing a hat that said “Sheriff” and had handcuffs on his belt.

Someone recognized Johnson as a former mall employee, and mall security approached him.

He got upset with security and was told to leave.

“When Johnson said that he would not leave, TPD was notified,” the lawsuit says.

Johnson ultimately did leave the mall, and Tacoma Police Department officers stopped his vehicle as he was leaving the parking lot.

They saw a shotgun on the front seat and took it from the vehicle to inspect it.

There was an arrest warrant for Johnson at the time because he’d been accused of assaulting an employee at a local marijuana dispensary.

“However, instead of arresting Johnson pursuant to the outstanding warrant or maintaining custody of the weapon which they had in their control, the TPD officers affirmatively placed the 20-gauge Mossberg shotgun back into Johnson’s hands before letting him go,” the lawsuit says.

TPD put out an officer safety notice about Johnson’s behavior, but it “was not disseminated throughout the department,” the lawsuit alleges.

Two weeks later Gutierrez responded to Johnson’s home, where Johnson had allegedly locked out his wife.

“When responding to the call, TPD dispatch never informed Officer Gutierrez of the Officer Safety notice or the existence of the shotgun that TPD officers handed to Johnson only days earlier,” the lawsuit says.

Gutierrez walked upstairs to speak with Johnson. Johnson fired when he reached the top of the stairs. He shot Gutierrez 24 times with multiple guns, including the shotgun, and beat him with the firearm.

The 17-year TPD veteran was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

A Pierce County sheriff’s sniper killed Johnson following an 11-hour standoff.

©2019 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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