Crime

Man who killed Tacoma officer was a father, a barber and a man with prior gun charges

The News Tribune staff

Deadly encounter detailed by home owner Kristi Croskey

Kristi Croskey tells what she saw and heard the night a police officer was shot and killed after responding to a domestic disturbance at her house Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.
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Kristi Croskey tells what she saw and heard the night a police officer was shot and killed after responding to a domestic disturbance at her house Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.

The man who fatally shot a Tacoma police officer during a domestic-dispute call Wednesday was Bruce Randall Johnson II, a 38-year-old Pierce County resident, a relative told The News Tribune on Thursday.

Johnson was the father of three and worked as a barber in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, The News Tribune has learned.

He also was known to carry firearms, court records show.

His grandmother, Josephine Bailey, identified him as the man who opened fire on officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez inside a house in the 400 block of East 52nd Street.

A member of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department SWAT unit later shot Johnson dead during a standoff at the house.

“We couldn’t believe he’d do something that way,” Bailey said Thursday from her Hilltop home. “We knew he was trouble, but we didn’t think he’d do anything like this.”

Citing an ongoing investigation, Police Chief Don Ramsdell on Thursday declined to release the gunman’s identity.

Trouble at a pot shop

Last year, Johnson was cited for fourth-degree assault and unlawful display of a firearm after a confrontation at a medical marijuana outlet, according to Tacoma Municipal Court records.

Johnson had tried to buy marijuana from the same place before, but lacked proper documentation, records state. On May 10, 2015, Johnson tried again. He was ordered to leave, and an employee escorted him outside.

Johnson argued, then lifted his shirt to reveal a handgun tucked into his pants, records state.

The employee kept trying to make Johnson leave; in response, Johnson threw a punch. A struggle followed. The handgun fell to the ground. The employee held Johnson until a witness picked up the gun.

Johnson received a deferred prosecution, based on completion of an eight-hour anger management workshop and two years of law-abiding behavior.

Records show he met that requirement in November 2015. However, he did not pay court costs as ordered, leading to a bench warrant, issued in March 2016.

Teen years

Family court records suggest Johnson’s teen years were spent in a home marred by a contentious and bitter divorce.

He was the oldest of four siblings. His parents separated in 1994. Records indicate he had problems with school attendance. At the time, he was attending Puyallup High School, where he was active in basketball and track, according to court records.

The same records state he was arrested on suspicion of residential burglary in June 1995. Johnson reported that he and a friend stole jewelry from a neighbor’s house.

Records indicate the divorce created a schism — the younger children preferred to stay with their mother, while Bruce and his younger brother wanted to stay with their father.

Court records from the divorce show continuing fights that lasted until 2015. A guardian ad litem writing in 1995 described the father as “just damn mean.”

Records show the mother sought restraining orders against the father and accused him of verbal and physical abuse.

On the East Side

Kristi Croskey, who owns the East Side home where the shooting happened, had been letting Johnson, his wife and two kids stay there as long as he paid the utilities.

She said Johnson had been working at Sam & Terry’s at South 11th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way on the Hilltop for at least a year.

A man at the business Thursday confirmed Johnson worked there, but said he didn’t know him well. He guessed Johnson had worked there about six to eight months.

At Sam & Terry’s, Johnson had taken over for another barber who Croskey used to see, and they had good conversations together.

Before that, they had known each other in passing because both attended the same church, but it was in the past year that they grew close.

Johnson was gregarious and charming, and emphatic, Croskey said. He spoke with his hands, often gesticulating broadly when he spoke. He lit up the room when he walked in and drew people to him. He was kind and a good guy, Croskey said.

“Whatever sparked him to that point, whatever took him over that edge, that’s between him and God at this point, but I knew him as a kind and gentle man.”

Grandmother

The walls of Josephine Bailey’s home are lined with the smiling faces of four generations of family. One face that is missing is her grandson, Johnson.

“He just seemed to be a troubled person,” she said Thursday morning from her living room.

Hours earlier, she said, the family learned Johnson was involved in Wednesday’s standoff and fatal police shooting.

She said Johnson’s 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son were with him inside the East Side home, Bailey said. At least one of the children saw their father shoot the police officer, she said.

Johnson’s mother, Corlin, is distraught, Bailey said. Corlin lives not far from the house where Johnson was shot, according to Bailey.

His first wife no longer lives in Washington. She declined comment when reached by The News Tribune.

Bailey wasn’t surprised police were called to the home for reports of domestic dispute, she said. Her grandson was abusive toward his wife, she said.

The last time Bailey saw her grandson was roughly a year ago, she said, adding he only came around when he wanted something from her.

“He had a chip on his shoulder for some reason,” she said.

Bailey repeatedly described her grandson as “troubled,” saying when her close-knit family got together for gatherings, it wasn’t uncommon for Johnson to “start something.” When that happened, he was asked to leave, Bailey said.

The family was gathering Thursday morning on the East Side to support each other, Bailey said. She also was grieving for the police officer who was killed.

“It’s not just us hurting,” Bailey said. “They’re hurting, too.”

Staff writers Sean Robinson, Brynn Grimley, Candice Ruud and Adam Lynn contributed to this report.

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