Daughters of slain Tacoma officer file lawsuit against the city for negligence

TACOMA - The family of a fallen police officer filed a lawsuit against the City of Tacoma, Monday.

“If protocols were followed, our father would be here today. And since they weren’t followed, we have suffered a great loss in our lives,” said Victoria Gutierrez, the officer’s youngest daughter. “Years later, we’re still left with questions that should have been answered from the get-go.”

Part of the lawsuit stated Gutierrez’s family believed he would be alive had it not been for the negligence of the city and the police department. A statement from the city attorney’s office said the alleged facts in the lawsuit don’t support liability against the city.

Part of the statement said, “The City is aware of the lawsuit related to Jake’s death from members of his family. The City’s Legal Department has evaluated the claims being asserted, and while we are deeply sorry, and share his family’s tremendous sense of loss, the facts alleged in this lawsuit are simply insufficient to support liability against the City.”

“We just know that it could have been prevented,” said Gabriella Cothran, one of Gutierrez’s daughters. “When we found out that other procedures could have been followed to prevent it, we just didn’t know who we could trust.”

Gutierrez served on the Tacoma Police Department for 17 years. Gutierrez was shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence call on November 30, 2016. Officials said the officer was shot by Bruce Johnson, who was shot and killed soon after by a Sheriff’s sniper.

The family’s attorney, Loren Cochran, said the negligence and lack of communication within the police department is one reason why he believes Gutierrez was shot. Cochran explained a warrant for Johnson’s arrest was issued in March 18, 2016 for an unrelated case of assault and unlawful display of a weapon. Cochran said, on November 15, 2016, Johnson was stopped by Tacoma police for displaying hostile behavior and impersonating an officer at the Tacoma Mall.

“The TPD officers did an investigative stop but they failed to arrest Jake Gutierrez’s killer, Bruce Randall Johnson, despite the fact that there was an active warrant out for his arrest. At that same stop, the TPD officers noticed that there was a shotgun in the front seat of Mr. Johnson’s vehicle. They took possession and control of that shotgun. According to reports they allegedly looked to see that it was unloaded and they allegedly ran a serial number to see that it was clear,” said Cochran. “The TPD officers, then, handed that 20-gage shotgun back to Bruce Johnson and that ultimately was the weapon that the medical examiner determined Killed Jake Gutierrez on November 30, 2016.”

Cochran mentioned Tacoma police issued an “officer safety notice” about Johnson after the incident the mall.

“Despite the fact that this officer safety notice was active, despite the fact that there was an active arrest warrant, no one from the Tacoma Police Department told Officer Jake Gutierrez of the dangerous situation involving Bruce Johnson on November 30,” said Cochran.

Gutierrez’s daughters said they filed a lawsuit against the city to hold officials accountable for the wrongful death of their father.

“We’re going to be affected by it forever, regardless. So, might as well try and get answers while we’re being affected by it directly,” said Cothran. “Our dad would stop at nothing if one of us had something happen to us. So, we’re doing that for our dad because he’s with us still.”

The written statement from the city said it still felt a “sense of tremendous loss” with the Gutierrez family. Officials in the city attorney’s office wrote, “The tragic death of Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez has had a lasting impact on Jake’s family, friends, co-workers, and the community that he faithfully served. Jake was an outstanding officer, respected for the many contributions and impacts that he made on the lives of others each and every day he came to work. For all of us who knew Jake, it was definitely a privilege working with him and calling him a friend.”

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