TACOMA, Wash. — The heartache felt by Antonia, Gabriella and Victoria Gutierrez has turned to anger.
Their father, Tacoma Police Officer Reginald "Jake" Gutierrez, was shot dead in late 2016 during a violent domestic dispute Gutierrez and his partner responded to while on patrol.
On Wednesday, his daughters filed notice in Pierce County Superior Court that they intend to sue the Tacoma Police Department for $21 million, claiming TPD officers are the ones who put the murder weapon in the suspect’s hands.
“We just want to make sure the department is held accountable for their actions,” Antonia Gutierrez told KIRO 7. “This could have been prevented.”
Reginald Jake Gutierrez, a 17-year TPD veteran, was killed Nov. 30, 2016, by Bruce Randall Johnson.
That night, while armed with a shotgun, 38-year old Johnson locked his wife out of their Tacoma home and used the couple’s two young children as shields during a long stand-off and eventual shoot-out with Tacoma police.
The children survived.
Johnson was killed by officers after he shot Reginald Jake Gutierrez 24-times.
However, it's what happened two weeks before their father died that has the three sisters angry enough to pursue legal action.
On Nov. 15, 2016, Johnson walked through the Tacoma Mall wearing a Sheriff's Department hat with a set of handcuffs on his belt and was carrying a rifle case.
According to General Liability Claim Forms filed Wednesday "When TPD police contacted (Johnson) in his car as he was leaving the mall, a 20-gauge Mossberg shotgun was found in the rifle case. Despite there being a warrant for his arrest issued at the time, TPD officers merely wrote a Field Incident Report, handed him back the shotgun and sent him on his way."
Attorney Loren Cochran, of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala in Tacoma, said the TPD officers who contacted Johnson on Nov. 15 “should have arrested him.”
“The warrant should have activated the ability for TPD to go in there, make the arrest and confiscate that gun. And that’s the gun used to kill Officer Gutierrez later,” Cochran told KIRO 7.
According to the sisters' legal claims, "Johnson shot and beat Gutierrez with the same 20 gauge Mossberg shotgun that (Johnson) had with him on November 15."
The medical examiner's report goes into more detail, revealing Johnson beat Gutierrez so severely with the shotgun that Gutierrez’s leg broke, severing his femoral artery, which was another fatal blow.
Antonia Gutierrez said the TPD officers who responded to the Nov. 15 incident at the Tacoma Mall “essentially let him go and gave him back the weapon that was used to kill my dad.”
The Gutierrez sisters and their lawyer believe that by allowing Johnson to keep his shotgun despite a warrant for his arrest, the Tacoma Police Department is to blame for their father's death.
“I’m sure those officers did not think, ‘Well, in a few weeks, he’s going to go kill an officer with that weapon,'” Victoria Gutierrez told KIRO 7, “but this should not have happened.”
Cochran said the family is pursuing legal action “to make sure this never happens to another officer again.”
“We don’t want any other family to go through this pain and trauma that we’ve had to go through,” Antonia Gutierrez said. “Our dad was a hero, and he died a hero.”
KIRO 7 reached out Wednesday to the Tacoma Police Department and officer Loretta Cool sent the following statement:
"The Tacoma Police Department does not comment on pending legal action."
-- Amy Clancy, KIRO 7 News