By Stephanie Woodard / Indian Country Today, 2/10/16
A Tacoma police officer fatally shot Puyallup tribal member Jacqueline Salyers just before midnight on January 28. Her uncle and family spokesperson James Rideout said Salyers, 33, was in the driver’s seat of a parked car. Kenneth Wright, Jr., who is not a tribal member, was in the passenger seat.
According to Tacoma Police Department spokesperson Loretta Cool, officers were in the area seeking Wright for outstanding felony warrants involving robbery, firearms and drugs. They recognized Wright, exited their vehicle and approached the parked car. How the next few moments unfolded is a matter of dispute.
According to Cool, “The driver stepped on the gas, and accelerated toward the officers. One of the officers fired at and hit the driver.”
After speaking to witnesses at the scene, Rideout says he was told that the two officers came up to Salyers’s car from behind – which means the car was not positioned to accelerate toward them – then began to shoot. The witnesses did not hear the police announce themselves ahead of the shooting. The driver’s side window was completely shot out, Rideout noted, asking “How could this have happened if she was headed right at them?”
Associated Press photographs of the car, taken after the shooting, show the gaping driver’s side window, with shards of glass visible around the edges. Bullet holes in the windshield appear to be confined to the passenger side.
The immediate aftermath of the shooting added to the anguish for Salyers’s family, and shocked witnesses as well, according to Rideout. “After shooting Jackie, the officers disrespected her body,” he charged. “Witnesses told me they took her out of the car, dragged her to the curb, put her in a police car, drove her a short distance away and dragged her out again onto the pavement. She must have died sometime during all this. The people who spoke to me found this extremely painful.”
In the police department’s first official statement to the media, Cool offered a simple description of what happened after the shooting: the officers rendered assistance to the car’s driver and called for medics; when they arrived, they pronounced her dead.
When ICTMN informed Cool that it had information that the body was moved multiple times, she responded: “I cannot say why the officers did what they did in this particular case. I believe the suspect, in the area with a rifle, would dictate moving to a safer location to administer medical aid.”
When asked why officers would approach a vehicle containing a dangerous suspect from a direction that would allow a driver to merely to step on the gas in order to endanger them, Cool’s responded: “The approach for every situation is officer discretion. I cannot state why the officers chose this method, as this is still an ongoing investigation.”
Everyone agrees that Wright fled the scene, armed with a rifle. He is still at large.
Salyers’s family had already reported Wright to the police for violence, including shootings, directed at her and other family members, according to Rideout: “Wright shot up Jackie’s mother’s car, and she had to relocate to get away from him. Jackie was a domestic-violence survivor. The police should have known that if she was with Wright, she was already a victim.”
Rideout said the family is devastated: “Jackie was about helping others. She never harmed anyone. She was such an innocent.”
An autopsy was performed on Salyers’s body as part of the crime investigation. Rideout expressed his family’s frustration at not being told ahead of time that this would be done and at not being told how to receive the results, along with other official reports that would help them understand what happened. All they learned was that the Tacoma police don’t use dash or body cameras (which Cool confirmed for ICTMN).
The police have been looking for Wright, including several hours of what they called an “active” yard-to-yard search of the area around the scene immediately following his escape. On February 8, Cool confirmed that Wright has not been apprehended.
“He is armed and dangerous,” said Rideout. “Given this man’s history, my entire family needs protection from him.”
Salyers’s family is planning a march to demand justice for her. In the meantime, Rideout said, the Puyallup Tribal Council has pledged legal representation for community-level aspects of the case and has asked for a Department of Justice Investigation.
On February 8, Rideout told the council, “We’re not the only Native community going through this.” He said that this tragedy was not the story he would have chosen to tell the world about their community. “We’re all about strength and unity and our youth succeeding. But our job is to protect our people, so we need to figure out how this happened, from start to finish. This must never happen again.”