City officials call for unity following attack at center for ICE detainees

Tacoma Police investigate following fatal shooting at Northwest Detention Center

Tacoma police set up roadblocks limiting access to the Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma Tideflats as they investigate a fatal officer-involved shooting.
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Tacoma police set up roadblocks limiting access to the Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma Tideflats as they investigate a fatal officer-involved shooting.

Officials at the city of Tacoma have urged unity and public safety following an attack at the immigrant detention center on the Tideflats that left one dead.

Mayor Victoria Woodards and City Manager Elizabeth Pauli released a joint statement Tuesday stating the city is partnering with other agencies, including the FBI, in an ongoing investigation of the attack at the Northwest Detention Center.

“While the details of this specific case continue to emerge, we must not be divided in our goal to prioritize the safety and well-being of each person who lives and works in, or visits, Tacoma. We ask you to join us in this goal,” the statement said.

Police were called to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma at 4 a.m. Saturday. A man was allegedly throwing incendiary devices at outbuildings and cars in the center’s parking lot, catching one car on fire.

The man, identified as 69-year-old Willem Van Spronsen of Vashon Island, died from multiple gunshot wounds during a shootout with police, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner. Van Spronsen was accused in 2018 of assaulting a police officer during a protest outside the detention center.

Tacoma police said Tuesday they will not identify the four officers involved in the shooting until they have been interviewed. The officers remain on paid administrative leave. A spokeswoman said the names might be released later this week.

It’s also too soon into the investigation to know whether Van Spronsen fired a weapon, police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.

The city voiced its support of law enforcement in its statement.

“As part of our responsibility for public safety, we continue to have the deepest respect for the difficult job of our law enforcement officers as they work each day to keep all community members safe,” the statement said. “We continue to support the City’s police officers as they protect and serve all of Tacoma’s residents, workers and visitors.”

Western States Center, a Portland-based organization that tracks extremist groups, also released a statement Tuesday about the attack.

“The horrors of our nation’s immigrant detention system are well-documented and demand urgent action. No human being should be forced to live under inhumane conditions for seeking safety or a better life,” said Eric Ward, Executive Director of Western States Center. “But vigilante attacks such as this one are wrong and can make immigrants and refugees in detention even less safe.

“Acts like this also risk undercutting deep community organizing efforts led by immigrant and refugee communities across the region and nation to end the devastation of federal family separation, detention and removal policies.

“We call on state and federal officials to take any necessary action to ensure that immigrants and refugees won’t be targeted for retribution following Saturday’s attack.”

The Northwest Detention Center is run by the GEO Group for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and has a capacity to hold 1,575 people.

Staff writer Stacia Glenn contributed to this report.
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