Lawsuit: Tacoma to pay woman trapped in gun battle that killed officer Jake Gutierrez

TACOMA, Wash. — The City of Tacoma has agreed to pay $100,000 to a woman caught in the middle of a 2016 gun battle where officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez and a suspect living in the woman’s house were killed.

As a landlord, Kristi Croskey was called to the home Nov. 30, 2016, to open the door for police who wanted to conduct a welfare check on a man who had locked his wife out of the house and was inside with the couple’s two young children.

Two weeks prior, police had issued an internal “safety bulletin” on the man, Bruce Johnson, after he was spotted at the Tacoma Mall wearing a hat labeled “SHERIFF” and carrying a rifle case.

Gutierrez was unaware of the bulletin before stepping in the house with his partner, Croskey and Johnson’s wife.

“Although this was an active criminal investigation scene, the responding officers did not protect plaintiff or even inform her to stay outside of the investigation scene,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in September 2019. “Soon after plaintiff was inside the home, a barrage of gunfire ensued both from Mr. Johnson and the Tacoma Police Department.”

Johnson opened fire on Gutierrez as the officer started walking up the stairs. In total, the officer was shot 24 times and suffered a broken femur and severed artery from being hit so hard with the butt of Johnson’s shotgun.

Gutierrez’s partner retreated with Johnson’s wife to take cover and call for backup.

The lawsuit alleges police abandoned Croskey in the home, forcing her to hide in a downstairs bathtub during the gun battle and send social media messages to friends asking them to remind officers she was still inside.

“Plaintiff was abandoned and when she finally rescued herself, she was mistaken by the first officer on the scene and treated as if she were the shooter with guns pointed at her,” Croskey’s attorney, Thaddeus Martin, wrote in the suit.

After a 10-hour standoff, Johnson was killed by a sniper’s bullet as he held his 6-year-old daughter and a gun.

Gutierrez died at an area hospital.

Croskey’s lawsuit alleges police were negligent to bring her into the home and for not checking the safety bulletin warning that Johnson could be dangerous before going inside to speak with him.

The City Council approved the $100,000 settlement Tuesday but did not admit wrongdoing.

“The City denies that there is any basis for liability in this matter and maintains that the officers handled this call professionally and appropriately, within the limits of their lawful authority,” city spokeswoman Maria Lee said. “The City recognizes, however, that this situation was tragic and difficult for all involved, and therefore is pursuing a resolution that provides an opportunity for healing and closure for all involved in this tragic situation.”

Croskey was traumatized by the experience, had to pay for extensive damages to her home and is hoping to sell it because she cannot bear to live there, her attorney said.

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.