Officers involved in fatal shooting at Tacoma detention center are identified

Day after fatal shooting, protests continue outside Northwest Detention Center

Protestors gathered outside of the Northwest Detention Center for a peaceful protest while some showed up to pay respects to Willem Van Spronsen.
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Protestors gathered outside of the Northwest Detention Center for a peaceful protest while some showed up to pay respects to Willem Van Spronsen.

Four Tacoma police officers involved in a fatal shooting outside a federal immigration detention center last weekend have been identified.

The department said Sgt. C. Martin and officers J. Correa, E. Allman and W. Gustason shot and killed Willem Van Spronsen, a 69-year-old accused of pointing a rifle at police and throwing flares and Molotov cocktails.

Martin, 45, is a 20-year veteran of the department. Correa, 27, has been with the department for four year; Allman, 28, was hired one year ago; and Gustason, 24, has been with the department for nine months.

Police on Thursday released new details about the investigation.

After searching Van Spronsen’s home on Vashon Island, police say the man claimed association with Antifa and was once a member of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club.

The group’s website describes it as an “anti-fascist, anti-racist, pro-worker community defense organization committed to accountable, community-led defense in the Puget Sound.”

Van Spronsen was a “known anarchist” and sent out a manifesto to several people shortly before his death, police said.

Detectives are reviewing the document, which they said they were unaware of prior to Saturday’s confrontation.

A contentious divorce and custody dispute that had dragged on for six years is also believed to have played a role in Van Spronsen’s motive.

His now ex-wife wrote in a petition seeking a protection orders in January that Van Spronsen talked of dying at the hands of police or of an intentional heroin overdose and that he took their school-age son to what she called militia meetings.

“He would also talk about dying for a cause and anarchist actions,” she wrote, among other concerns. “This was near the end of our marriage. I found it very scary and upsetting because I believed he would do it, even if it hurt someone and even if he died as a result.”

The protection order that followed in February made it illegal for him to have firearms.

Neighbors on Vashon Island described Van Spronsen as a folk singer and carpenter who cared deeply about others and held contempt for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

According to search warrant documents, detectives believe the incident was planned because they found he had large amounts of ammunition, flares and Molotov cocktails.

Police said they were called to the Northwest Detention Center about 4 a.m. Saturday after someone reported a man with a rifle was throwing incendiary devices at nearby buildings and propane tanks.

Investigators have reviewed video surveillance from the detention center that allegedly shows Van Spronsen handling what appeared to be an AR-15 style rifle, setting fire to a building and placing flares in “strategic locations,” including beneath a 500-gallon propane tank, Tacoma police said in a news release.

The video also allegedly shows Van Spronsen blowing up a vehicle and throwing Molotov cocktails at nearby buildings.

“Audible police sirens can be heard in the background of the video surveillance, a clear indication that the police would soon be arriving,” according to police. “He made no attempt to flee.”

The four officers opened fire on Van Spronsen after he pointed a rifle at them and ignored commands to drop the gun, police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.

Van Spronsen was struck by two rounds and pronounced dead at the scene.

A rifle was recovered next to his body.

Detectives said the weapon appeared to have malfunctioned during the incident.

It was not immediately known if Van Spronsen participated in a planned, peaceful protest at Northwest Detention Center eight hours before the incident.

In a statement last week, ICE called Van Spronsen an, “Anti-immigration enforcement protester.”

“This could have resulted in the mass murder of staff and detainees housed at the facility had he been successful at setting the tank ablaze,” said Shawn Fallah, an ICE resident agent in charge.

The four Tacoma officers were placed on paid leave after the shooting, which is standard procedure.

Once the investigation has concluded, police will conduct an internal review.

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