Kenneth Wright and his longtime girlfriend, Jacqueline Salyers, were sitting inside a stolen Lincoln sedan they’d come to call home in Tacoma’s South End.
On Jan. 28, they spent most of the day parked outside a friend’s house in the 3300 block of South Sawyer Street, as had become their habit.
The friend had asked them earlier in the day to leave, but she didn’t enforce the command when night fell and the homeless couple stayed put.
Considering herself something of a house mom, she even fixed them sandwiches when they told her they were hungry.
About 11:30 p.m., Wright was trying to fix the car radio, something he’d been promising to do for Salyers, a 32-year-old Tacoma native and Puyallup tribal member.
They saw headlights from a police car pass, then watched as it reversed and pulled up in front of them in the street.
Wright, a 32-year-old felon, was wanted on warrants for first-degree robbery, first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.
He faced life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted on the charges.
He didn’t know that an ex-girlfriend had been arrested by officer Scott Campbell and his partner, Aaron Joseph, the night before and divulged information about where Wright was hanging out.
The woman told police Wright was spending time at a two-story home on South Sawyer Street and was often driven around in a tan car by Salyers.
His ex said Wright often wears body armor, is usually armed and told her he’d never go back to jail.
GUNS DRAWN, APPROACHING THE CAR
When Campbell and Joseph came on shift Jan. 28, they told their sergeant they planned to check out the house where Wright was supposedly crashing.
They wanted to verify the address and pass the information along to detectives.
Joseph drove. Campbell pulled up mug shots of Wright on the computer.
As they passed the house, Campbell spotted a tan sedan and recognized Wright in the passenger seat.
The dome light was on in the car as Wright fiddled with the radio. Campbell said he recognized several distinctive neck tattoos and a teardrop tattoo beneath Wright’s eye.
Joseph stopped the patrol car 15 to 25 feet from the front of the Lincoln, which was backed into a parking spot facing the street. He then walked toward the driver’s side door.
Campbell also got out of the car and walked around the back of the patrol car toward the passenger side, where Wright was sitting.
He called dispatch and put out his call sign but didn’t wait for a response.
“It was my intent to request additional units and give out our location when I called out on the radio at this time,” Campbell said in a prepared statement to investigators six days after the shooting (Feb. 3).
“But due to a rapidly evolving situation, I determined it was more necessary to assist Officer Joseph in controlling the two suspects in the vehicle that he had already initiated with.”
The officers approached the car with their handguns drawn while yelling at Wright to put his hands in the air.
Wright later said Campbell came around to the passenger side where he was sitting and “just started screamin’ for no reason.”
He said he and Salyers repeatedly asked what was going on through the front windows, which were cracked open.
Frightened, Salyers started the car and put it in gear.
SHOT FOUR TIMES
Wright later said he told Salyers to wait and see what was happening, but “she starts driving off, like crawling.”
He recalls Salyers steering straight to avoid a truck next to them, then turning right so she wouldn’t hit the patrol car.
As the Lincoln passed him, Joseph tried unsuccessfully to punch out the driver’s side window with his gun.
Campbell remembers the car suddenly driving straight toward him. He backpedaled to get out of its path, but the tires stayed pointed at him “in an obvious and blatant, intentional attempt to run me over.”
Inside the car, Wright was panicking.
“I just knew that they were gonna start shootin’ for some reason now. I could just feel it,” he said. “And so I was like, ‘Babe, get down,’ and then look over ’cause I thought, if I would have looked over, I would have tried to protect her.”
The car was inches from Campbell when he opened fire, aiming at Salyers. He fired at least seven rounds.
One didn’t penetrate the windshield. One went through the windshield and hit the dashboard. Up to three rounds struck the passenger side window, shattering the glass. Another hit the backseat passenger window.
Salyers was shot four times — in her right arm, abdomen, left wrist and side of the head.
“I have no doubt that if I had not shot the driver that the vehicle would have continued to gain speed and run me over,” Campbell said in his statement.
The sedan stopped after 50 feet.
MAN WITH A RIFLE, RUNNING INTO THE NIGHT
Afterward, Wright remembered both officers being behind the Lincoln and thought both fired at the car.
Investigators said Joseph never fired his weapon.
“They were still shooting after the car was stopped,” Wright said. “The bullets flying over my head. I don’t understand. Why?”
He cried as he recalled looking over and seeing Salyers, whom he considered his wife of five years and the mother of his two children, slumped over and bleeding.
Wright began screaming at the officers that they killed his wife. Campbell, afraid Wright was armed, took cover behind a nearby pickup truck and again ordered Wright to put his hands up.
At 11:46 p.m., Joseph radioed dispatchers that shots had been fired and retreated behind a nearby SUV.
After a moment or two, Wright either climbed over Salyers’ body and through the driver’s side window or got out the passenger side door and walked over to the driver’s side (accounts differ). He grabbed a rifle from inside the car and took off running.
Joseph chased him, and Campbell followed — until Joseph saw the gun in Wright’s hands.
“Once I saw the rifle I knew I was outgunned, so I retreated back to cover,” Joseph said in his Feb. 29 interview with detectives.
He called for Campbell to get back and warned him Wright had a gun. Joseph got a department-issued rifle from the patrol car.
“We did not know where Wright was at this time and were fearful that he was moving into an advantageous position to assault us with his rifle,” Campbell said.
The officers moved behind a home and updated dispatchers on their location, Wright having a gun and Salyers being shot. Then they kept moving, running behind houses and seeking cover behind parked cars.
A sergeant arrived and ordered the officers to join him at his vehicle so they could devise a plan to reach Salyers and give her medical aid.
Backup officers arrived and began setting up a perimeter to search for Wright.
Campbell, Joseph and another officer hid behind the sergeant’s car as he slowly drove to Joseph’s patrol car, which was still stopped in the street with the doors open.
The four officers then switched to Joseph’s patrol car and, at 11:58 p.m., crept up to the Lincoln. They took Salyers from the car and placed her in the backseat of the patrol car.
They slowly drove down the street, one officer walking alongside the car and holding Salyers’ legs to keep them from dragging on the ground.
They stopped and removed Salyers from the car. Campbell couldn’t find a pulse but began CPR anyway. Paramedics arrived moments later and took over.
Salyers was pronounced dead at the scene at 12:14 p.m.
A toxicology report showed she had methamphetamine, amphetamine and morphine in her system when she died.
“BUT NOW IT’S TOO LATE”
Campbell and Joseph were driven back to the department headquarters, where they were photographed for the investigation. Campbell’s weapon was taken for evidence, and he was issued a new gun.
Back at the scene, a SWAT team, search dog and King County sheriff’s helicopter were looking for Wright. The manhunt was called off after six hours.
Nobody in the neighborhood saw the shooting, but many heard the shots.
The next day, investigators searched the Lincoln and discovered ammunition and a .45-caliber handgun that had been stolen during a Tacoma burglary.
They also found acceleration marks in the dirt and seven 9mm shell casings at the scene.
A camera mounted in the area faced where Salyers was shot but “malfunctioned, capturing only short segments after the incident,” according to a police report.
Sixteen days after the shooting, police arrested Wright at a home in Tacoma. He initially gave officers a fake name but was identified by his tattoos, one of which is his name.
He later said he keeps replaying the shooting incident in his head. He also insists he and Salyers were trying to get on their feet before she was killed.
The couple’s two children are being cared for by Salyers’ mother. Salyers had two other children and was pregnant at the time of her death.
“She talked about being back to the kids every day, doing the right thing, getting our stuff together,” Wright told detectives. “We took a tumble, but we were both working on it, slowly but surely.
“Yes, we should have been working on it faster maybe... . But now it’s too late.”
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
This account was taken from 343 pages of documents obtained by The News Tribune from the Tacoma police investigation of the shooting Jan. 28 of Jacqueline Salyers.
The documents included police reports, as well as officer and witness statements.
The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office has ruled the shooting was justified, and officers Scott Campbell and Aaron Joseph have returned to duty.
Salyers’ family doesn’t believe the officers’ account of what happened and has protested her death with marches in Tacoma.