Sometime after 10:30pm on January 16, 2018, a garage in the 400 block of 59th Street caught fire. Firefighters arrived on the scene around 10:45pm. About this time neighbors heard what may have been gunshots or possibly explosions from the fire. They reported seeing a man with a rifle crawling on the lawn shortly after the fire. The man with the rifle was 27-year-old Michael Bender, a Marine and veteran of two tours in Afghanistan. One in 2010 and another in 2012.
Tacoma police officers arrived responding to the call. They made repeated requests for the man to put the rifle down. Then gunfire was exchanged. A total of seven Tacoma Police Officers opened fire on Michael Bender. He was the only one at the scene hit with any bullets and died at the scene becoming Tacoma first homicide of 2018.
Michael enlisted in the Marines in 2009. He was a Combat Engineer with the rank of Corporal. He had also been stationed overseas in Okinawa and Japan when he wasn’t serving in Afghanistan. He was discharged in 2012. He was known to have a big heart and be fiercely loyal to those he worked and fought alongside.
We may never know what caused Michael’s actions on the last day of his life and I am not one to speculate. What is known is that we’ve lost one more life from our city, Michael’s family and friends have a hole in their lives and will never be the same. Michael’s family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for funeral costs. Here’s the link: https://www.gofundme.com/rip-michael-bender
As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of Michael who want to share thoughts or memories of him. It is monitored. Each comment is approved before it posts.
– Jack Cameron
Sunday afternoon neighbors near the 5600 block of South Lawrence Street called 911 because 58-year-old Frankie Santos was behaving erratically and had a handgun. When police arrived, Frankie was yelling. The three officers told him to drop the handgun. Instead he fired the handgun in their direction. All three officers responded by opening fire on Frankie Santos. Frankie was dead before the paramedics arrived.
Frankie Santos is the seventh Tacoma homicide this year. It is the first police involved shooting in Tacoma this year. The use of lethal force by police officers is always problematic, but when they are dealing with an armed individual firing a gun, their viable options quickly become limited.
I was not able to find much online about Frankie Santos. I could not tell you why he was behaving the way he was or how or why he had a gun in his hand. What I can say is that this final incident of Frankie’s life is not all that Frankie was. In his 58 years of life he had friends and family. He had people he cared about and people who cared about him. If there is one thing I have come to believe in eleven years of covering Tacoma’s homicides, it is that we are not our worst actions. We are much more than that. More to the point, the loss of a life does not just mean the end for Frankie Santos, it means a hole in the lives of the people who knew him.
It is all too easy to look at a police involved shooting of an armed man firing a gun and act as though it were a movie or a television show where the ‘bad guy’ got what was coming to him. The reality is someone’s son is dead. And while I would not condemn anyone for returning fire at someone shooting at them, I also will not pretend that Frankie Santos losing his life has no meaning.
As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew Frankie and want to share remembrances of him. If you knew Frankie and have a photo of him, you would like me to share on this page, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Jack Cameron
38-year-old Bruce Randall Johnson II did not have a good day on November 30th. He had been fired from his job as a barber and Sam & Terry’s barber shop up on Tacoma’s Hilltop where he had worked for the last eight months. He had gotten into an argument with his wife in which he had locked her out of the house they shared in the 400 block of East 52nd Street. When police knocked on the door he did not answer. When the landlord unlocked the door, he and his two children, an eight-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son, were on the third floor. When a police officer came up the stairs, Bruce opened fire, killing him.
It is unknown what exactly caused Bruce to behave the way he did on November 30th. In recent weeks friends and coworkers say he had become increasingly volatile. In mid-November he was spotted dressed as a plainclothes police officer at the Tacoma Mall, wearing a Sheriff’s cap and carrying a rifle case. He had been fired from the barbershop for altercations with customers and disagreements with staff.
Multiple people who knew him called said that Bruce was ‘troubled’. We will likely never know the mental state he was in or what caused him to take the actions that he did. We do know that there were people who enjoyed his company.
During the eleven hour standoff, Bruce would refuse to leave the house, at times using his children as human shields, at other times firing his guns at unknown targets. At one point his son was near the front door and a SWAT team member removed him from the house. Near 3:30am, a Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy outside the house fired one round through a window killing Bruce Johnson.
Bruce Johnson is the seventeenth Tacoma homicide this year and the second police involved shooting this year. TacomaStories treats police involved shootings like we treat any other homicides. This is because we operate under the concept that no one should be judged by their worst actions alone.
As always the comments section is moderated and reserved for those who knew Bruce and want to share thoughts of memories of him.
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– Jack Cameron
Ask most police officers and they will tell you that the most dangerous calls are Domestic Violence calls. For this reason at least two officers must respond to any Domestic Violence call. 45-year-old Tacoma Police Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez had responded to hundreds of these calls in his 17 years in the Department. When it came to domestic disputes Jake was known as someone with a lot of success in deescalating situations. On the afternoon of November 30th, Jake and another officer responded to a call at a three-story house in the 400 block of East 52nd Street.
An animal control officer had encountered a very upset woman. Her husband had locked her out of the house. The animal control officer contacted the police. Jake and his partner knocked on the door, but there was no answer.
They contacted the landlord to get a key. The landlord knocked on the door saying they were going to unlock the door. Jake started going up the stairs to talk to the man and check on the couple’s two children, a six-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter. Jake yelled, “Get out!” to his partner and the man’s wife as three shots were fired, followed by three more.
Jake was hit multiple times. His partner returned fire and got the man’s wife out of harm’s way. Jake would later die at Tacoma General Hospital. After an 11-hour stand-off the man responsible for his death was killed by a Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy.
Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez is the 16th Tacoma homicide this year and the 11th officer to die in the line of duty in the history of the Tacoma Police Department. This is the first TPD officer killing since I started TacomaStories back in 2006. The last one was in 1997.
Jake spent most of his career on Tacoma’s East Side in the same neighborhood he gave his life protecting. He would attend community meetings. Many locals knew him by name. He had three children, a grandchild, and he was engaged to be married. By all accounts Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez was the textbook definition of a good cop.
Jake had a quick wit and could be very funny. His demeanor helped him defuse tense situations. Colleagues say that on a domestic violence call, Jake was the officer you wanted with you. He will be missed by his brothers and sisters in uniform, his friends, his family, and this city he chose to serve.
As always the comments section is moderated. All comments must be approved. The comment section is reserved for those who knew Jake and want to share thoughts or memories of him.
– Jack Cameron