UPDATED, 1:20 p.m.: Added information to the tenth paragraph regarding police activity.
Just before midnight on January 28, a Tacoma police officer fatally shot Puyallup tribal member Jacqueline Salyers, 33. “Every time I talk to Jackie’s mother, she keeps saying, ‘They shot my baby, they shot my baby,’” said Salyers’s uncle, James Rideout. “This is a very dark time for us.”
Family members have visited the place where Salyers died, and held candlelight vigils attended by hundreds of mourners. They’ve seen her wounds and dressed her for burial.
They’ve also begun questioning the official account of the incident. “There lies my niece,” said Rideout. “She can’t speak for herself, so we have to speak for her. Her four children need to understand. They need to know that our community loves and supports them.”
According to a Tacoma Police Department statement, Kenneth Wright Jr., was wanted for outstanding felony warrants involving robbery, firearms and drugs. At 11:46 p.m. on January 28, two officers patrolling South Sawyer Street recognized Wright sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car with an “unknown female” in the driver’s seat.
“The officers exited their patrol vehicle and approached on foot,” says the statement.
Then, the statement says, “the driver stepped on the gas, accelerating toward the officers. One of the officers fired at and hit the driver. The vehicle stopped, and the wanted male subject exited, armed with a rifle. He fled the scene on foot. The officers rendered aid to the driver and called for medical aid to respond. She was pronounced dead when medical aid arrived at the scene.”
Jackie Salyers was that “unknown female.” Wright, according to her family, was an abuser, who had directed violence, sometimes involving firearms, toward her and other family members.
Associated Press photographs of the car show that it was struck with multiple shots. Bullets struck the driver’s side door, shattered the passenger’s and driver’s side windows and punched holes in the passenger’s side of the windshield.
Rideout told ICTMN he didn’t believe the damage matched the scenario the police offered—that Salyers sped toward the officers, and one of them shot her.
Tacoma Police Department spokeswoman Loretta Cool told ICTMN that additional information cannot be released until the department’s investigation of the incident is complete.
However, Cool did confirm that the suspect was still at large. (ICTMN has learned that Wright was apprehended in the early hours of February 15; he is being held in the Pierce County jail on robbery, firearms and drug charges; Pierce County encompasses the city of Tacoma.) And she did respond to Rideout’s claim that Salyers’ body had been moved. Witnesses had told him that the police dragged the young woman out of her car and onto the pavement. She was then dragged into the patrol car and driven the short distance to the end of South Sawyer Street and around the corner onto Wright Avenue, where she was dragged back out onto the pavement. Medics arrived at this location and pronounced her dead.
Cool speculated that, with the suspect possibly still in the area, the officers moved Salyers to a safer spot in which to render aid.
Here are additional questions relatives want answered, posed during a family gathering on February 11:
Where are the skid marks? What stopped Jackie’s car?
Steve Rideout, uncle: “The night after Jackie died, we had a candlelight vigil at the scene of the shooting. The next day, and on several more days, I returned to where she had been parked, opposite a park and playground. I couldn’t find any signs of an accelerating vehicle. There were no skid marks on the pavement or gouges in the gravel edge of the street, either of which you’d expect from sudden acceleration, depending on how far over the car was parked.
“Furthermore, killing a driver doesn’t stop a vehicle in gear and in motion. If the driver were suddenly incapacitated and could no longer depress the gas pedal, the vehicle would keep rolling until it crashed. There’s no sign of that—on the car, the park fence, or anywhere else. What stopped Jackie’s car? Did it even start up, much less accelerate? When, and why, was Jackie shot?”
How did the head wound occur? When was Salyers’s arm broken?
Gina Gilman, cousin: “I helped dress Jackie for burial. We saw that she was shot in the right temple, by the hairline. There were black specks on her face that looked like gunshot residue. How did the head wound occur? Was she shot at close range?
“A bullet grazed her left hand, and one hit her right arm. She also had a broken right arm that didn’t appear to be caused by a bullet. When was her arm broken? While she was being dragged in and out of the vehicles?”
Will witnesses be afraid to testify?
Darlene Salyers, grandmother: “I’m going to be 75, and I’ve never been watched by the police in my whole life. However, after the funeral, we were getting out of the car in front of my apartment building. A police car drove by, and the driver honked his horn and kept on going.
“It brought back old memories of my son being murdered 30 years ago. Fear of the consequences of testifying meant the truth never came out. I worry that will happen again. Will witnesses be afraid to testify about what happened to Jackie?
“We want the truth, and we’re going to have to work very hard to get it.”
Jackie Salyers’s family has started a Facebook page, Justice for Jackie, where more information may be found.