Tacoma police Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez was remembered Thursday for his sense of humor, integrity and ability to defuse volatile conflicts, all attributes that, by most accounts, made him a good cop.
“He was very good at his job,” a visibly shaken Chief Don Ramsdell said at a news conference at Tacoma Police headquarters, less than a day after Gutierrez was gunned down while responding to a domestic-dispute call.
“He’s a model police officer,” Ramsdell said. “He’s highly dedicated to his profession. He’s highly dedicated to his community, and he demonstrated that every time he came to work.”
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Gutierrez was a 45-year-old father of three and grandfather of one who was engaged to be married.
He was a 17-year veteran of the Police Department and spent most of his career patrolling the city’s East Side, where he was remembered by fellow officers and residents for his quick wit and easy-going manner.
Gutierrez was on the job Wednesday afternoon when he and another officer were dispatched to a house in the 400 block of East 52nd Street to investigate a domestic dispute.
A gunman later identified by relatives as Bruce Randall Johnson II opened fire, hitting Gutierrez, who died later at Tacoma General Hospital.
Gutierrez had a knack for handling just the sort of calls that ended in tragedy Wednesday, according to his commendation record and people who knew him.
Jim Barrett, president of police union Local 6, said he and Gutierrez worked side by side as officers for a time, and that he supervised him a few years ago on the “special response team,” a group that specializes in handling crowd control.
As a colleague, Gutierrez was “someone that people could count on, definitely,” Barrett said.
He was funny and smiled a lot, and had a “truly caring” way about him, Barrett added.
“I’ve known Jake since he started here,” Barrett said. “He always had a smile. He was one of the good guys, helped everybody out, helped the citizens, a wonderful person to be a supervisor of.”
All Tacoma police officers are trained in handling domestic-dispute calls, Barrett said, but, “Jake was special. Jake had his own way of handling those, and he did a great job. I think it was his personality that helped him take care of calls that way in a much better way.”
Relatives of Gutierrez will be traveling in for the funeral from all over the country, including Georgia and Nevada, Barrett said.
“You just can’t say enough good about the man,” the union president said. “It’s a shame that what has happened has happened, but we will remember Jake for who he was and what he brought to our lives, and we’ll honor his legacy here in Tacoma.”
Lynnette Scheidt, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Advisory Council and the Dometop Neighborhood Alliance, said she wasn’t surprised Gutierrez had responded to a domestic-dispute call in her neighborhood.
“He went to many, many DV calls. And defused them,” said Scheidt, who also volunteers at the Police Department’s Sector 4 substation. “I know so many people that would say, ‘Oh, that officer came to my house and made me feel safe again.’ It was usually a DV situation.”
Gutierrez used a calm demeanor to de-escalate many situations, Scheidt continued.
“He was out there in the streets. He knows the people in the streets,” she said. “He was very soft-spoken. He just talked to people, calmed them down.”
In 2010, a Tacoma city employee newsletter included a commendation of Gutierrez for “defusing a potential fight at the Eastside Neighborhood Advisory Council meeting.”
Scheidt was quoted in the newsletter as saying the way he “handled the situation was very professional, yet the kids knew he understood their situation and all would go to jail if things broke out into a fight.”
Scheidt said she first met Gutierrez in 2006, and that the East Side neighborhood knew him “very well.”
“He came to our neighborhood cleanups. He came to our neighborhood meetings,” she said. “He took his job way more serious than a lot of people. He got involved with a lot of people.
“He was totally true to the East Side.”
Ramsdell said the loss of the veteran officer has hit his department hard.
“It is a family member,” the chief said. “It’s tough.”
The officer who accompanied Gutierrez on his final call is having a particularly hard time, Ramsdell said. She returned fire after Gutierrez was shot and helped get a woman who was inside the house to safety, the chief said.
“They worked together for many, many years,” the chief said. “It’s very difficult for her.”
Staff writers Adam Lynn, Derrick Nunnally, Matt Driscoll, Stacia Glenn and Candice Ruud contributed to this report.
The Officer Jake Gutierrez Legacy Fund has been set up to help the Tacoma police officer’s family. Donations can be made at any Wells Fargo branch or at Crime Stoppers of Tacoma/Pierce County.
There have been reports of fake Go Fund Me memorial pages for Gutierrez, officials said. The official fund is at Wells Fargo and Crime Stoppers.