The family of Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez, a Tacoma police officer killed in the line of duty three years ago, has filed claims for damages totally $21 million against the city, contending it could have prevented Gutierrez’s death.
Gutierrez, 45, was gunned down Nov. 30, 2016 by a man who’d locked his wife out of their East Side home and used his two children as human shields during a nearly 11-hour standoff.
Gutierrez’s three daughters — Antonia Gutierrez, 26; Gabriella Cothran, 23; and Victoria Gutierrez, 18 — contend police should have arrested the killer weeks earlier when they found him with a shotgun at the Tacoma Mall. Bruce Johnson, 38, had a warrant for his arrest at the time, according to court records they provided to The News Tribune.
“We just want to make sure the department is held accountable for their actions,” Antonia Gutierrez told KIRO-7. “This could have been prevented.”
In the weeks leading up to the incident, Johnson exhibited bizarre behavior and was stopped at the mall in a hat reading “sheriff” and carrying a rifle case over his shoulder. He had handcuffs dangling from his belt.
A police officer stopped Johnson as he pulled out of the parking lot and found an unloaded 20-gauge shotgun in the front seat.
Johnson told police he was heading to the gun range and didn’t want to leave the weapon in his car for fear it would be stolen.
“Despite there being a warrant for his arrest issued at the time, TPD officers merely wrote a Field Incident Report, handed him back the shotgun and sent him on his way,” attorney Loren Cochran wrote in four claims filed with the city Wednesday on behalf of Gutierrez’s daughters and his estate.
Fifteen days later, Johnson used the same shotgun to kill Gutierrez. Johnson was killed by a law enforcement sniper during the subsequent standoff.
On Wednesday, a Tacoma police spokeswoman declined to comment on the claims, which are a precursor to a lawsuit, citing the department’s policy against publicly discussing potential litigation.
Gutierrez was a 17-year veteran of the department known for his easy-going manner and quick wit.
He and his partner were patrolling the East Side when they were called by animal control officers to speak with a crying woman who’d been locked out of the house by her husband.
Police called the landlord for her spare keys, which they used when Johnson refused to open the front door.
Gutierrez called out to Johnson that he just wanted to talk and walked up to the second floor. As he turned down the hallway, Johnson opened fire.
Johnson shot the officer more than 24 times and also beat him with the shotgun, according to the claims.
The landlord and Johnson’s wife were able to escape the home safely while Gutierrez’s partner called for backup.
More than 184 officers responded to the scene throughout the night, including half of the commissioned Tacoma police personnel.
At one point, several officers rushed inside the house and carried out Gutierrez, but he was later pronounced dead at Tacoma General Hospital.
Johnson repeatedly told negotiators he would surrender but never did.
When Johnson’s 8-year-old son stepped out of a bedroom, police rescued him. Then a Pierce County sheriff’s sniper fired at Johnson through the window.
A SWAT team found Johnson had been holding a gun and his 6-year-old daughter in front of him as a shield.
Neither child was injured.