Crime

Family wants answers in death of Jacqueline Salyers, shot by Tacoma police

VIDEO: Hundreds protest police shooting in Tacoma

Close to 300 people marched Wednesday from Puyallup Tribal headquarters to the U.S. Courthouse as a protest to the police account of shooting of Jacqueline Salyers.
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Close to 300 people marched Wednesday from Puyallup Tribal headquarters to the U.S. Courthouse as a protest to the police account of shooting of Jacqueline Salyers.

When Tacoma police fatally shot Jacqueline Salyers in her car Jan. 28, her family was left with a storm of questions.

Why, they want to know, did police kill 32-year-old Tacoma native and Puyallup tribal member? Why did officers move her body? Why wasn’t her family notified of her unborn child?

They also are asking how did the passenger in Salyers’ car — a seven-time felon wanted on weapons charges — get away? How did he get out of jail despite having two strikes?

And how are the officers who shot Salyers already back at work?

After the shooting police said an officer shot Salyers when she drove her car at two officers who tried to approach a robbery suspect who was with her.

More than two months later, many answers remain hard to come by.

Toxicology reports are pending, but the Police Department plans to deliver its internal investigation of the shooting to Pierce County prosecutors by Friday (April 15), police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.

The report will be released after prosecutors decide whether to charge the officers involved in the shooting.

South Sound 911 declined a News Tribune request for 911 tapes of the incident or the police report because of the active police investigation.

Salyers’ family members and Puyallup tribal leaders have asked city leaders for an outside investigation into the shooting.

The family also organized a walk March 16 to raise their questions and demand answers. Nearly 300 people walked from the Puyallup Tribe’s headquarters to the federal courthouse in downtown Tacoma.

Family spokesman James Rideout says the wanted man who was sitting next to his niece when she was shot is the one person who can answer the questions.

“There’s a key witness: His name is Kenneth Wright, and he knows exactly what happened,” Rideout said.

WHY DID POLICE SHOOT SALYERS?

The night Salyers was killed, police were searching for Wright, 32, in Tacoma’s South End. He was wanted on warrants for first-degree robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.

Salyers was in her idling Lincoln sedan about 11:45 p.m. with Wright in the passenger seat when officers Scott Campbell, 30, and Aaron Joseph, 33, spotted him from their patrol vehicle. The officers got out and walked toward the car.

They did call out the approach to the car. Obviously, they didn’t know they were going to need backup until they got there. Things happened very quickly.

Loretta Cool, Tacoma police spokeswoman

Rideout wonders why the officers approached Salyers’ car without turning on their patrol car’s emergency lights and without calling for backup.

Said Cool: “They did call out the approach to the car. Obviously, they didn’t know they were going to need backup until they got there. Things happened very quickly.”

With the two officers in front of the car, Salyers hit the gas pedal, Cool previously told The News Tribune. Campbell fired his gun at least four times through the windshield, police have said.

“All indications at this time are that the officer acted when he felt his life was endangered,” Cool said earlier this month.

Salyers was hit at least once and at least one bullet exited through the driver’s side door, as seen in an Associated Press photo of the shooting scene.

Rideout disputes that evidence, contending Campbell fired while standing beside the car.

“Shooting from the side of the car, that’s an elude,” Rideout said. “That’s not a threat. That should be cause for a call for backup and to pursue.”

HOW DID WRIGHT GET AWAY?

When Salyers was shot and officers were trying to help her, Wright got out of the car and, armed with a rifle, fled, according to police reports.

Police blocked off an area from South Hosmer to M streets and from South Wright Avenue to 38th Street to search for Wright. A SWAT team went yard to yard for nearly six hours, but could not find Wright, who was facing life in prison without parole if caught and convicted.

Sixteen days after the search, police found him at a house in the 4400 block of South Asotin Street. After being coaxed from the house, Wright gave a fake name, police said, but was identified by his tattoos, one of which is his name.

Three loaded guns were found in the house, which led prosecutors to charge Wright with three additional counts of unlawful possession of a firearm.

Kenneth Wright has been convicted of seven felonies and nine misdemeanors, and he has three unresolved criminal cases in Pierce County.

Wright has been convicted of seven felonies and nine misdemeanors, and he has three unresolved criminal cases in Pierce County.

His bail was set at $1 million for the robbery and old gun charges, plus $500,000 for the drug charge. Bail for the newer gun charges also was $1 million.

HOW WAS WRIGHT OUT OF JAIL?

The warrant for Wright’s arrest stemmed from a shoplifting incident Nov. 10 at a Safeway store at 1624 E. 72nd St.

According to court papers:

Wright and two women shoplifted some items at the store and a loss prevention officer confronted them. Wright pulled out a revolver and told the loss prevention officer to step back.

The three fled in a vehicle that the loss prevention officer later described to Pierce County sheriff’s deputies. The store officer said the male thief was black and had a cross tattoo under his left eye.

Deputies were familiar with the description and drove the loss prevention officer to a residence about a mile away.

They waited for a car at the house to leave and then pulled it over. The two women in the car had warrants for their arrest.

The loss prevention officer identified the passenger as the shoplifter but did not recognize the driver.

The driver told deputies that before the shoplifting she drove to the house where Wright and Salyers lived to pick up them and the passenger. Both women said Wright was wearing a bulletproof vest and had a firearm in his shoulder holster.

The driver said she didn’t go into the store. The passenger said she didn’t see Wright with the gun in his hand in the store.

The loss prevention officer identified Wright in a photo lineup. Wright was not arrested at the time, but an arrest warrant was issued.

Rideout said the family had “zero contact” with Salyers when she was with Wright — the father of the youngest two of Salyers’ four children — and said she was a victim of domestic violence.

Salyers’ mother, Lisa Earl, told the City Council this week that officers called Jan. 3, hoping to find Wright.

“My daughter was a special person and she was in a relationship with a man who took advantage of her kind heart,” Earl said. “It got to be a domestic situation where he threatened my life whenever she tried to get away from him, as well as threatening her life.”

WHY DID POLICE MOVE SALYERS’ BODY?

After Salyers was wounded, police removed her from the car and placed her on the ground before paramedics arrived.

“It’s wrong to remove a body from a crime scene without having a coroner there and people doing an investigation on the entire area,” James Rideout said. “What were they doing moving her body like that?”

Cool, the police spokeswoman, said the officers were trying to give Salyers medical aid.

Salyers died at the scene.

My sister frantically asked a detective to bring her daughter home and capture this fugitive. But not like this.

James Rideout, uncle of Jacqueline Salyers

WHY WASN’T THE FAMILY TOLD OF SALYERS’ PREGNANCY?

Salyers was pregnant when she died, but her family said they weren’t told until after her burial.

“We have a procedure and a way we bury that child within our culture,” Rideout said.

The family was not able to follow their traditions because they didn’t know of Salyers’ pregnancy, he said.

Salyers’ older sister, Lesley, told The News Tribune in March that the family didn’t know whether her sister knew of the pregnancy.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office will answer medical questions about a deceased person if the family calls, a spokesman said.

But employees would be overwhelmed if they called every family, the spokesman said.

WHY ARE THE OFFICERS BACK ON DUTY?

After a fatal shooting involving Tacoma police, the officer is immediately placed on administrative leave and the officer’s weapon confiscated.

The officer then goes through an after-incident regimen that includes meeting with a psychologist, reviewing departmental policies and procedures followed by additional training.

They were within our policy from what we’ve been able to determine at this point. All procedures were followed, so they’ve returned back to work.

Loretta Cool, Tacoma police spokeswoman

Reports and evidence are shared first with police commanders and then with the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office and Tacoma’s Deadly Force Review Board.

The review panel at present includes Assistant Chief Pete Cribbin, two police commanders, two police union members and two city residents.

The board determines whether the use of force complied with department policy. Cribbin does not vote but the other six members do.

Recommendations from the board and investigators go to Chief Don Ramsdell, who decides whether the officer’s use of force was reasonable and justified.

Since Salyers’ death, Campbell and Joseph have been reinstated.

“They were within our policy from what we’ve been able to determine at this point,” Cool said. “All procedures were followed, so they’ve returned back to work.”

Staff writer Adam Ashton contributed to this report.

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker

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