Remembering a life lived — and ended — in a Tacoma police uniform

Procession And Memorial Service Honoring Fallen Officer

Thousands attend the memorial service at Tacoma Dome to honor and salute fallen police officer Reginald "Jake" Gutierrez.
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Thousands attend the memorial service at Tacoma Dome to honor and salute fallen police officer Reginald "Jake" Gutierrez.

When he was 7, Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez declared he would be a police officer one day.

He grew up to wear a Tacoma Police Department uniform, and on Nov. 30, he died in that uniform.

Nearly 5,000 people gathered Friday in the Tacoma Dome to honor and remember Gutierrez and his 17 years of service to the city.

“It wasn’t long after Jake joined the Police Department that it was obvious he was going to turn out to be a very respected and productive police officer,” Police Chief Don Ramsdell said.

“Jake had an inherent desire to serve and help others and a commitment to make a positive influence on the lives of everyone he came into contact with.”

Proof of that came in the stories family members and co-workers told during the 2½-hour ceremony.

He begged his partner to call in sick on the days he didn’t go to work so he wouldn’t have to worry about her. He gave money to homeless people. He never left home without kissing his fiancée. After persuading a suicidal woman to step down from a bridge, he bought her a Quarter Pounder and fries because he’d told her that was his solution to a bad day.

“He was my favorite person, he was my hero and my absolute best friend,” Gabriella Cothran, one of his three daughters, told the crowd. “One of his warm, loving hugs could turn around even the worst day.”

During the years Gutierrez patrolled the city, dozens of residents wrote the department letters praising him. They talked of how he treated the people he arrested with dignity and respect, and how he always tried to connect with wayward youths and persuade them to get on track.

He earned several merit awards for bringing in a homicide suspect, helping with an active shooter at the Tacoma Mall and talking a young man out of jumping off a bridge.

His partner, Erika Haberzettl, served as a pallbearer Friday but asked another officer to read a statement she’d written about her “work husband.”

She recalled his kindness, his compassion, how he fought to return to the job despite suffering three strokes.

“I also knew he would protect me, and he proved that to the very end,” Haberzettl wrote.

Gutierrez was fatally shot Nov. 30 while responding to a domestic dispute at an East Side home.

As he reached an upstairs landing to speak with a man — later identified as Bruce Johnson II — about locking his wife out of the house, the man opened fire and shot Gutierrez multiple times.

Haberzettl returned fire before getting out of the house with Johnson’s wife. A Pierce County sheriff’s marksman killed Johnson after an 11-hour standoff.

“My father died doing what he loved, and the hard part is, we know he would do it all again if he had to,” a teary Cothran said.

The officer’s death unified the community in grief.

Several of Gutierrez’s loved ones and dignitaries who spoke during the service thanked the public for bringing flowers to a memorial and seeking out law enforcement officers to offer condolences, hugs and handshakes.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland talked about the important role police play in protecting residents, and how we’re all family.

“We need them often, but today, right now, they need us,” she said. “I want everyone to know that Tacoma stands behind its Police Department and every single man or woman who wears the badge.”

Gutierrez’s sister Antoinette urged those attending to be happy rather than sad and to emulate her brother’s caring, generous spirit.

“When you leave here today, go home, hug your family, love your neighbor and give a gift of kindness and peace to someone who may have nothing or no one,” Antoinette Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez had a large family, more than two dozen of whom took part in Friday’s ceremony.

It began at 10:55 a.m. with a procession that snaked its way from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, past Tacoma police headquarters and into the Dome.

About 750 police and fire vehicles participated, including more than 300 commissioned Tacoma police personnel.

Hundreds of others who wanted to attend the service gathered at Cheney Stadium, where 12 shuttle runs ferried 330 people to the Dome.

Michael Bass, who like Gutierrez lives in Port Orchard, drove to the stadium Friday morning and took one of the shuttles to the ceremony.

Bass said he it was important for him to be there because three of his children are law enforcement officers in Kitsap County, and his daughter used to be a Tacoma police officer.

“I felt like I needed to be here for this officer,” Bass said after the service. “The family spoke very highly of Jake, and everybody here spoke very highly of him. He was just a great man.”

About whether this could happen to his family: “I worry about that all the time.”

Before the service started, Gutierrez’s family huddled together for a private prayer.

Hundreds of officers held salutes as the family members, with red roses pinned to their lapels, filed past to the front of the Dome where Gutierrez’s casket was spotlighted and surrounded by floral displays and items representing his personal life.

His black Infiniti Q45 was parked to the right of the stage. There was a birthday poster made by one of his daughters, a display of nine collector knives and a pair of Vans shoes atop a table.

Photos of his beloved dogs, Hutch and Daisy, were framed, as was a shot of Gutierrez grinning alongside a Forrest Gump statue.

Tacoma police had carved two American flags out of wood and placed a thin blue line across the middle. Patches of law enforcement agencies from people Gutierrez graduated the police academy with were assembled in a frame.

Gutierrez and his fiancée, Rebecca Humphrey, planned to wed at a courthouse in a few days. She described him as a fierce protector, a playful man and an example of integrity.

He loved to perform random acts of kindness, Humphrey said, from buying coffee for strangers to tucking her into bed every night.

“I will be strong for his girls. I will open my own doors, remove my own shoes, tuck myself into bed, but I will miss his kiss goodnight,” she said. “I will be kind and fierce in protection of our own family. Our next home, I know he has already begun preparing for us.”

A video of Gutierrez’s life projected onto two large screens showed him hamming it up with his family, holding his three daughters, playing golf, boxing, running a race and dancing with friends.

Buglers played taps. An officer rang a large bell 21 times to honor Gutierrez. An honor guard ceremoniously folded the flag draped over the casket before Ramsdell presented it to the officer’s daughters.

The ceremony ended with the traditional last call. A radio dispatcher was broadcast calling Gutierrez’s number over the air.

“Tacoma 044. Tacoma 044,” the dispatcher said. “No answer. 044 out of service. Gone but not forgotten.”

Staff writer Candice Ruud contributed to this report.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653