Category Archives: Tacoma Crime

A Robbery In Tacoma

pistolYesterday morning at around 6:30am, a stepfather went to the Chevron station on South 11th and Sprague. His stepson was working the counter there and soon to get off shift. Unfortunately, his shift ended with a black male in his 20s wearing a black bandanna over his face pointing a pistol at him and robbing the gas station. The robber took off on foot.

You didn’t read about this in The News Tribune. It wasn’t covered by any of the local news stations. I wouldn’t even know about it except that the stepfather contacted me about it. I asked Tacoma Police Spokesperson Loretta Cool about it. She said that there had not been any similar robberies in the area.

No one ever forgets having a gun pointed at them. During those moments you are acutely aware that your life is in immediate danger. It can be a life altering or life ending experience. And so I’m entirely sympathetic with the stepfather’s pleas that someone takes notice of this case. If someone had pointed a gun at my son, I’d want the person found immediately and non-stop police and media coverage until the person was found. I understand.

Years ago I worked for the Law Enforcement Support Agency (L.E.S.A.). I was one of a handful of people whose job was to take the hand written reports from police officers and transcribe them into the computer. In a lot of ways it was a dream job for an aspiring writer with an interest in his hometown of Tacoma. I got to read 50 new real crime stories a day.

The first thing I noticed was that the vast majority of the crime reports I transcribed were never mentioned in the media at all. Some of them were major events that I would have thought would garner all sorts of media attention. And yet, if you weren’t a part of the crime or a part of the police department you might never know they even happened.

At one point I asked how the media decides what goes in their reports. I was told that every morning the police beat person would call in and the desk sergeant would give them a group of incidents that had happened the previous night. Of course there were things that managed to get the attention of the media without the phone call, but in the two years I worked there, I encountered hundreds of reports that I felt were things the public should know about that were never mentioned anywhere in the media.

Initially, it may seem that the media and/or authorities don’t care about certain crimes. However, when you take a look at the numbers, it starts to make more sense. In 2012 there were 486 robberies in Tacoma. That works out to about nine robberies a week or more than one a day. (There were over 1,400 in Seattle. Per capita, our rate of robbery is only slightly higher than Seattle’s.) Even if the police or the media wanted to publicly post about every single robbery that occurred in Tacoma, the truth is almost no one would read it.

This brings me to this weekend’s robbery at the Chevron. A black male robbed a gas station on Hilltop over the weekend with a gun. The facts of the case are sadly so typical that it’s entirely understandable why it never made the news. Despite vast improvements from the crime filled days of the 1990s, Hilltop is still a neighborhood where crime is not uncommon. More to the point, Hilltop’s reputation from the 1990s has yet to fade. No one got physically hurt. (There’s a lot of truth to ‘if it bleeds it leads’.) There wasn’t a beautiful young woman involved. From a public interest standpoint, there’s nothing remarkable about a Hilltop gas station getting robbed over the weekend.

Having said all that, it’s important to point out that none of this justifies a criminal pointing a gun at an innocent person just doing his job and robbing him. Being the victim of a robbery is an extremely traumatic event. And it’s one that cries out for justice. I entirely understand the victim’s stepfather wanting to put a spotlight on this and find the perpetrator. And while it may not seem like it, the police department really does want to find this guy. But today they’re going to be responding to another robbery. And tomorrow another. Most of these you will never hear about. Some will be solved. Some will not. All of them will leave their mark on their victim.

The crime rate in Tacoma has gone down dramatically over the years. Unfortunately, it is not so low that the media or sites like this can cover all of the violent crime in Tacoma. Perhaps that’s not a possibility in a city of almost 300,000 people. I feel for the victims of any crime in Tacoma. I wish there were something more that I could do, but I don’t have the time or access to the information to write about it all.

-          Jack Cameron

First Tacoma Homicide of 2014 Charles (Chucky) Williams

chuckywillsIt was supposed to be a celebration of the life of a recent homicide victim. Unfortunately, it would also be the location of Tacoma’s first homicide of 2014. This Friday would have been Jalon Bea’s 18th birthday. Saturday night, friends of his had gathered at a nightclub in the 2600 block of 6th Ave. The party broke up around 1:30am on Sunday morning. What happened next was captured on video. Someone fired seven quick shots and ran as people scattered. Nineteen year old Charles Williams was killed in the gunfire. His friends called him Chucky.

Charles was Jalon Bea’s cousin. Police are still looking for Chucky’s murderer. They’re asking everyone who was there to contact the Tacoma Police Department immediately. I’ve posted a link to the video below. Anyone who was there or who recognizes anyone should contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS. There is currently a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer.

The killing of Charles Williams marks the first homicide in 126 days. Directly after Charles’ murder there was talk online of Tacoma’s old reputation of being a cesspool of gang violence. This reputation was well earned from the crime-filled days of the early 1990s, but it’s hardly an accurate account of present day Tacoma.

Unfortunately, violent deaths like that of Charles Williams is part of living in a city. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. We can only take comfort in the fact that it doesn’t happen often.

As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew Chucky. Every comment is moderated.

-          Jack Cameron

Keeping Tacoma

The streets of Tacoma are safer than they've been in years.

The streets of Tacoma are safer than they’ve been in years.

It’s been 94 days since there was a homicide in the city of Tacoma. In 2013 we only had ten homicides. Tacoma earned its reputation as a dangerous city in the early 1990s when California gang members relocated to Tacoma’s Hilltop. In 1995 I was in Los Angeles and ran into some gang members there. I told them I was from Tacoma and they respected that. Now, a generation later, Tacoma has changed in a lot of big ways.

Downtown isn’t quite the ghost town it used to be. You’ll still find empty shops, but it’s a far cry from the mid-1980s when there were just blocks of empty buildings including Tacoma’s Union Station. Similarly, Hilltop isn’t nearly the crime magnet that it was years ago. You’ll still find gangs and street crime in Hilltop but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

One of the reasons I write about homicides in Tacoma is to simply show how rare they really are. I’ve seen bumper stickers and t-shirts that say, “Keep Tacoma Feared” and while I can relate to that sentiment, I don’t think that’s what Tacoma needs.

I’ve also seen people talking about Tacoma being a ‘second city’ with some sort of endless comparison to Seattle. We’re 30 miles away from a much bigger, much more-well-known city. This is true. Half the time when a movie is filmed in Tacoma, they call it Seattle. Recently when the mayor of Tacoma was interviewed on PBS after the State of the Union, they did it against a backdrop of Seattle’s skyline. There seems to be this idea that we are somehow the Randy Quaid to Seattle’s Dennis. I disagree with this idea.

Tacoma has never been interested in being Seattle. We’ve never tried to be. As a life-long Tacoman, I’ve spent almost no time comparing Tacoma to Seattle. We’re entirely different cities. Yes, Tacoma is smaller and less well known, but what most of us Tacomans know is that we don’t care. We’re too busy doing our own thing to worry about what Seattle’s doing.

Part of the issue as I see it is that Tacoma refuses to be identified by any one major thing. We aren’t just the Port. We aren’t just the Tide Flats. We’re not just our museums. We’re not just our poets. We’re not just our bars or our breweries. We’re just our incredible waterfront or our world class Pt. Defiance Park & Zoo. We’re all of these things and more. The one thing we can shed if we cared to is our reputation as a dangerous town. We simply aren’t anymore. I’m not saying bad things don’t happen here, but compared to a lot of places, it’s a rarity.

You can keep fearing Tacoma if you like. For the rest of us, we’re just going to keep Tacoma.

- Jack Cameron

Tenth Tacoma Homicide of 2013 Derek Wagner

darekwagnerLast Sunday afternoon near the 4500 block of Asotin Street a man went into his back yard and found the dead body of 27-year-old Derek Wagner. He’d been repeatedly stabbed. Derek was from Kalama, Washington. At this time there is no further information about what Derek was doing in Tacoma, who he may of been with, or how he ended up in a South Tacoma back yard.

Police are asking anyone with information about this case to contact them at 253-798-4721.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family who might want to share their thoughts about Darek.

- Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday with Tacoma Police Department Public Information Officer Loretta Cool

tacoma-police-genericWhen I read about police spokespeople online or see them on television I always feel a little bad. It seems like they never sleep and are always talking to the press on a near endless schedule. They all seem to need a vacation. I’m sure Loretta Cool, the Public Information Officer of the Tacoma Police Department is the same way, but I couldn’t tell. Despite a workload I don’t even want to think about, she took the time to talk to me and participate in 5 Question Friday.

Given recent events in Tacoma, I felt it would be good to get to Tacoma to the TPD. I also wanted a bit of a historical perspective on the crime in Tacoma. I’ve probably introduced her enough. Here’s Loretta.

1. What is the most misunderstood part about Police Work?

I think there are many misunderstood areas of Police work. Lately, an issue that seems to keep popping up is about Police being able to arrest someone based on an identification by a victim or witness. Everyone seems to think if a victim points out someone they believe committed a crime, the Police can arrest them.  On the surface I guess that would be wonderful, as long as you were not the one wrongly pointed out. Police have to be able to link a suspect to a crime through many avenues, the identification is just one part. Police can have a victim swear up and down that this particular person committed the crime. Police then discover that the “identified person” was nowhere near the crime.  It seems I spend a lot of time explaining that identification of a possible suspect may not culminate in an arrest. If Police are able to tie the suspect to the crime, the identification helps tremendously.

2. Recently two people have been shot and others have been attacked on South 19th in Tacoma’s Hilltop area reminding long time residents of the early 1990s when Hilltop was genuinely dangerousWhat do you feel the police can do to help keep Hilltop safe?

I do appreciate the wording here about the Hilltop being genuinely dangerous. In the early 90’s Police responded to multiple gunshots being fired per shift and many people being robbed, shot or killed. Tacoma has come a long way since that time. Two incidents in near proximity to each other do not make the Hilltop like it was back then. The crime was not just limited to the Hilltop, we had rampant crime throughout the city. The Police took proactive measures to make the City a much safer place. With these two incidents and any others, the Police will continue to actively seek out those responsible and hopefully be able to arrest and convict them.

The things that we have been doing since that time. Being out in the community, getting to know the people who live, work and play here. Actively Patrolling so that the Police presence is felt and citizens feel good about going to Police for help.  Continue using all available resources and tools to apprehend the persons responsible for committing the crimes. And develop more connections to leverage what we have.

3. What do you feel the general public can do to help keep Hilltop safe?

Be out and about. The more good people are visible the bad people tend to go away.  Report the suspicious activity, gatherings and crimes when they occur. A lot of Police work is still reactionary, if nothing is reported, it is like nothing is happening. When things are reported the Police are aware of those areas that need the high visibility of Police.

4. What changes have you seen in Tacoma in the time you’ve been here?

I have already touched on a few of these. What amazes me is the cleanup of many areas.  On Pacific Ave from 7th to 25th Street there used to be something like 40 bars. Now there are businesses that promote growth, not to mention the UW. The same was true on MLK there used to be about 25 Bars between 6th Ave and 25th Street. Now there are businesses that attract more family activities. Even the expansion of St. Joseph’s hospital, Tacoma General and Mary Bridge. On the eastside of Tacoma, the Boys and Girls club, skate park, pool and a welcoming avenue with street improvements, instead of decrepit apartments and bars lining the streets. These are just a few changes that I think are for the better.  There are still improvements to be made all across the City but I think in the last 30 or so years the City of Tacoma has come a long way.

 

5. It’s lunch time. With the whole city available, where do you get a good bite to eat?

This one is not as easy as it sounds. I work with a group of about 15 people. We try to go to lunch somewhere every couple of months. One person will pick their favorite place to go. I have been out with them about 5 times so far, each time a different new spot for me. And each time it has been a great place to go. So, what I would offer here is Google Tacoma Restaurants and pick the type of food you like, my guess is the place will be a great place to eat since so far I like them all.

 

I’d like to thank Loretta Cool for joining me on 5 Question Friday. If you or someone you know would like to join me in a future installment, drop me a line at jackcameronis@gmail.com.

-          Jack Cameron

Ninth Tacoma Homicide of 2013 Santiago Sanchez Cortes

sanchez-cortesSantiago Sanchez Cortes’ employer was concerned. He had not called or shown up for work for several days. Before this, Santiago was known as a good worker who never missed a day. His employer reported him missing to the police. The last time anyone had seen the 59-year-old man was October 1st.

Police investigated his disappearance and found the last person who Santiago had talked to on the phone. Further investigation revealed that the woman had gambling debts, had used Santiago’s debit card and sold his truck. Soon they had witnesses who had heard her admit to killing Santiago. She had since been arrested along with an accomplice.

Unfortunately, there’s very little information right now as to what happened to Santiago. His body has yet to be recovered. He is the ninth Tacoma homicide this year.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of the victim who want to post remembrances of their lost loved one.

-          Jack Cameron

Help Victims of a Senseless Attack

justinwinter

This past Tuesday tattoo artist Justin Winter, Mishele Dupree, and a friend were  walking on South 19th and Martin Luther King Way. They were approached by a group of young people. There were at least 15 of them. Justin had refused to give one of them a cigarette a few nights before.

The girls with Justin managed to escape with bruises. Justin was not so lucky. He was knocked to the ground and repeatedly stomped in the face and hands and left with a jaw broken in multiple places and numerous other injuries. He’s finally being released from the hospital today.

The attack occurred on a busy street. The nearest police station was only two blocks away. While the Hilltop neighborhood is notorious for crime from the gang violence of the early 1990s, Hilltop has changed dramatically since then. And violent attacks such as this are rare.

This crime is eerily reminiscent of the 2000 beating death of Eric Toews. In that case, it was one of a series of attacks by the same group of teenagers. I’ve spoken with the Tacoma Police Department and have been told that similar attacks have not occurred lately.

As one might expect, the injuries Justin has sustained are resulting in substantial financial hardships. There is a fundraising page set up for Justin at the link below. If you have the means, please donate what you can.
https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/6dUe5

- Jack Cameron

Eighth Tacoma Homicide of 2013: Jalon Bea

Around 4pm last Friday, 17-year-old Jalon Bea was near South 43rd and South G Street with a group of people. There was a shot. Jalon was hit in the chest. His father was able to make it to St. Joe’s Hospital before Jalon died from the gunshot wound.

Jalon was a student at Stadium High School and the eighth Tacoma homicide victim this year. He was the first teenager homicide this year. The investigation at the time of this writing is still ongoing and little information has been released.

It’s always a tragedy when someone so young is killed. As always, the comments section is moderated and reserved for those who knew Jalon and want to share memories of him.

I will write more information when and if there is more released.

Update: A 19-year-old man has turned himself into police for the shooting of Jalon Bea. A rally to celebrate the life of Jalon is being held at Lincoln Park on Tuesday October 16th.

Update 2: Charging documents state that Jalon was standing with a group of people who were passing around a .38 Revolver. One of the people in the group believed he had unloaded the gun and was playing around with it. He pointed it at Jalon, and pulled the trigger. The shooting was accidental and a tragic reminder that guns must always be treated as if they are loaded. The 19-year-old shooter has been charged with first degree manslaughter.

- Jack Cameron

Seventh Tacoma Homicide of 2013 Lawrence Howse

howse-lawrenceThe city of Tacoma managed to be fairly quiet when it came to homicides this summer. Unfortunately, last Saturday we added one more killing to the year’s totals.

A little after 10 pm on Saturday night at 54-year-old Lawrence Howse arrived home at Sky Terrace. He entered the code for the secure parking garage and parked his black BMW. Before the garage door shut, two men slipped inside and confronted him and robbed him. Then one of the men shot Lawrence. The two men then left. Police believe they headed north on Broadway.

Around 10:30pm a passerby found Lawrence, called 911 and started administering CPR. Fire crews arrived shortly afterward and pronounced Lawrence dead on the scene.

Back in 1995 I lived on the second floor of Sky Terrace. It’s been through some renovations since then and converted from apartments to condominiums. It was a good place to live though, close to downtown Tacoma and the Stadium District shops. Each apartment has a balcony with a great view of the water.

Police say this was a crime of opportunity.

The two suspects are still out there. Crime Stoppers described the suspects as ‘two black males in their late teens or early 20’s with average builds.  The first suspect was seen wearing a white shirt and dark pants, and had a light complexion.  The second suspect was wearing a dark shirt, dark pants, and his hair may have been worn in an afro or short braids.’ Crime Stoppers is offering $1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killers.

Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool is asking anyone who saw anything suspicious Saturday night near South 4th and Broadway or Stadium Way to call 253-591-5968.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of the victim.

-          Jack Cameron

UPDATE: 09/27/13 Tacoma Police have arrested two people in connection with the death of Larry Howse.

Sixth Tacoma Homicide of 2013: Frank Rossiter, Jr.

FrankRossiterJrThe text came a little after 8pm on Thursday night. One of my close friends who lives near North 46th and Ferdinand sent the following message: ‘Wow. Someone just shot up our neighborhood!’  I quickly called him. He told me that he was working in the back yard when he heard a series of gunshots then silence, then a few more gunshots. He went inside the house and told his wife and infant son to get on the floor. He then went into the bedroom, got his pistol, and locked the doors.

Outside what had happened was that a neighbor had fired off his pistol from his back porch before walking up and directly confronting 55-year-old neighbor Frank Rossiter, Jr. He then shot and killed Frank and threatened other neighbors before leaving the area. The shooter was a known heavy drinker who neighbors called ‘a bit crazy’.

Tacoma police swarmed the area and would later discover the shooter went to a friend’s house in Gig Harbor where he killed himself.

Frank Rossiter, Jr. by all accounts was a well liked guy. He was the father of a 12-year-old boy. He liked fishing. His son and my friend’s older son are friends.

This is the sixth homicide this year in the City of Tacoma. Sadly, this is about average for our city. Most years we have between 12-15 homicides. Each loss is felt by hundreds of friends and families. In this case a boy has lost his father. The purpose of this site is to focus more on the victim than the perpetrator because the shooter tends to get most of the attention from the media.

On Saturday I had dinner with my friend. We talked about the recent murder. While not a close friend of the victim, he knew of him. My friend mentioned that his older son told him after the murder that the shooter would frequently threaten to shoot kids who cut through his yard. His son had never bothered to tell him until after the murder. Every neighborhood has a crazy guy in it. Unfortunately this one was actually dangerous.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of the victim. Share your thoughts and memories of Frank with us. His Tacoma Story deserves to be told.

-       Jack Cameron