The officer-involved shooting that in January took the life of a young mother in an abusive relationship is lending urgency to a slate of police reforms Tacoma leaders unveiled earlier this year.
In the wake of Jacqueline Salyers’ death, members of the Puyallup Tribe are demanding increased use of body cameras, more diversity training for law enforcement officers and better communication between Tacoma police and the city’s minority communities.
Those are key points of Project Peace, an effort that Police Chief Don Ramsdell launched in August “to build relationships before something bad happens.”
Despite the outreach, members of the tribe at an emotional City Council meeting Tuesday said they did not trust the city to do a fair investigation into Salyers’ death.
“How can we as citizens trust that (internal) investigation?” Puyallup Tribal Councilman Tim Reynon told the City Council.
“Even if you were to do that investigation 100 percent accurately, there’s still going to be that perception that you swept it under the rug,” he said.
The Police Department has said one of two officers at the scene shot the 32-year-old tribal member Jan. 28 because they feared she was driving her car at them with a wanted felon in the seat next to her.
The department’s report on the shooting is expected to be forwarded on Friday (April 15) to the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, where attorneys will assess whether the officers acted inappropriately.
The officers — Scott Campbell, who shot Salyers; and Aaron Joseph — are back on duty.
Salyers’ friends and fellow tribal members want the customary internal report that follows an officer-involved shooting to go to the Washington State Patrol instead.
Tribal Councilman David Bean went a step further, requesting a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation into how officers police minorities in Pierce County.
Members of the tribe have raised that request with U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, but have not asked him to take their appeal to the Justice Department, his spokeswoman said.
Even if you were to do that investigation 100 percent accurately, there’s still going to be that perception that you swept it under the rug.
Bean and Reynon were among dozens of tribe members who crowded the City Council chambers Tuesday. Wearing white T-shirts that read “Justice for Jackie,” they held prayers before and during the meeting.
“It’s not done, it’s not done until the truth comes out,” Lisa Earl, Salyers’ mother, tearfully said after the tribe members finished their remarks.
Salyers, mother of four children, was shot while she was driving with Kenneth Wright, who was wanted on warrants for first-degree robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.
In the past, Salyers evaded police multiple times, once leading them on a high-speed chase and slipping out of handcuffs three times after an arrest. She also went to jail twice as an adult, once in 2010 on drug charges and again in 2011 on eluding, drug possession and identify theft.
Earl and several other members of Salyers’ family said Salyers and Wright had a longtime abusive relationship. Salyers’ loved ones said they hoped that relationship would end with Wright’s arrest. Earl said she had spoken to police about Wright as recently as Jan. 3.
Their charges to the City Council were polite, but also loaded with accusations that officers practiced biased policing.
“We’re fearful and it’s 2016, not 1881,” said Nick Gilman Jr., 36. “We feel unsafe outside our own reservation.”
City Council members pledged to Salyers’ family that the city will carry out an impartial investigation and that it will comply with any state or federal agencies that intervene.
We’re fearful and it’s 2016, not 1881. We feel unsafe outside our own reservation.
Nicholas Gilman Jr.
“We owe it to ourselves and this community to get to the truth,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.
Strickland, City Manager T.C. Broadnax, Chief Ramsdell and City Council members have said they’d hold a meeting with the tribe. Spokeswomen for the city manager and Police Department said a meeting had yet to be scheduled.
Council members noted they have been working to make the Police Department more transparent to minorities through Project Peace. Ramsdell announced the effort’s recommendations in February. They included encouraging youth involvement with police and adding more crisis intervention training for officers.
Last month, the Police Department took its first steps toward buying body cameras. It also is looking for additional diversity training, police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.
Salyers’ loved ones told the City Council the changes should have been in place by the time of the late January shooting.
“Why weren’t they wearing cameras?” Salyers’ sister, Leslie, asked. “We wouldn’t even have to be here” if officers had them.
City Councilman Marty Campbell said he’s planning to attend the as-yet-unscheduled meeting with the tribe. He said Project Peace did not come too late.
“It’d be too late if we started it today,” he said. “We started it a year ago and we know that it takes time. Clearly the word’s not getting out there about everything we’re doing, clearly it’s not being heard everywhere.”