It appears that the efforts of the Justice for Jackie committee are having an effect. After first organizing a public march and rally through downtown Tacoma on March 16 to bring attention to the Tacoma police shooting that took Jacqueline Salyers’ life on Jan. 28, members of the Justice for Jackie committee, her family and friends attended the April 12 Tacoma City Council meeting to address city leaders in person.
Given five minutes each at the microphone to have their say, speaker after speaker, which included a range of people from average citizens to union members and community activists, approached the podium for nearly two hours of emotional and compelling statements. By the end, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland expressed sympathy for Salyers’ family and pledged that a thorough and fair investigation would be conducted.
Jacqueline Salyers was a Puyallup Tribal member and 33-year-old mother of four who was pregnant at the time of her death. She was shot and killed by Tacoma police officers Scott Campbell and Aaron Joseph while they were attempting to apprehend Kenneth Wright Jr. who was in the car with her. Wright escaped and was caught two weeks later.
“Some words jumped out to me,” Mayor Strickland said to those who spoke. “You felt stereotyped, you felt disrespected. You want facts, you want a fair and thorough investigation. Not only do we owe that to the Tribe, we owe that to the entire community.”
Currently Pierce County is conducting an ongoing investigation into the shooting and the Tacoma Police Department has its own internal investigation going as well.
“The current (county) investigation is ongoing and we are fully cooperating as is the (Tacoma) police department and the city with the county prosecutor’s office and any other law enforcement agency that has an interest in looking at this particular incident,” said Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax. “We will be turning over our own internal investigation to the prosecutor’s office and they will make the decision as to whether an independent investigation should be undertaken. We do look at this as a very serious issue and again they will make that decision along with the medical examiner about the next steps.”
“I want to reiterate that we want to do a thorough and fair investigation,” Strickland said. “It does us no good to hide anything ever so we want to make sure this is something that’s thorough. As some of you said earlier, 95 percent of the police force are good people who want to do good things and I was not there (at Salyers’ shooting) so I cannot cast dispersions but what we can do is make sure there is a thorough and fair investigation.”
“Thank you for coming out and sharing this evening,” said Council Member Marty Campbell. “You’ve said you want a dialog and you respectfully came out and had a dialog with us and we listened.”
The city is in the process of working with members of the Puyallup Tribal Council to set up a meeting with Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell, Puyallup Tribal Police, Mayor Strickland and Tacoma City Council members to further discuss what happened to Jackie and the many questions that have still gone unanswered for her family. Those seeking justice for Jackie also want to see reforms made in how these types of police shootings are investigated.
In addition, Puyallup Tribal Council Member Tim Reynon said that a task force has been approved by state Governor Jay Inslee regarding the use of excessive force by law enforcement. “One of the positions is for a tribal representative. We’ve asked that one from our council be appointed to that position and council is recommending that it be me. Hopefully we’ll know in next couple of weeks,” he said.
Tim Reynon said he was shocked to learn that law enforcement departments regularly investigate themselves in these types of situations. “That doesn’t make sense to me. I want to see that changed. Our (Tribal) law enforcement doesn’t investigate itself – we call an outside agency and bring them in. Even if law enforcement did a perfect investigation on themselves and the evidence came back that nothing should be done with the officer, the problem is the perception that they swept it under the rug.” Tim Reynon clarified that he is not attacking the Tacoma Police Department but rather the process – the internal investigation conflict of interest that would apply to any agency. “In order for there to be transparency and trust amongst communities, you need to have that independent type of investigation done.”
Tim Reynon was one of the speakers at city council. “It sounds like the mayor and council got the message pretty loud and clear,” he said after the meeting. “We want an independent investigation, we want transparency and we want answers. The mayor said some very nice words that made it sound like she heard us, same with Marty Campbell.”
Tim Reynon noted how well spoken those were who testified, which seemed to make a difference in how the city council reacted to the testimony.
“Everybody that testified represented the family and Tribe with honor and dignity and the mayor recognize that,” he said. “Everybody was very gracious, honorable and in the face of a very difficult situation – everybody presented with the upmost dignity. It was powerful. The fact that we were able to do that spoke louder than if people had been up there yelling and screaming. It shows the mindset of family and community that we’re serious about this – we want to get to bottom of this and see changes in the laws, process and all of that so that hopefully we can prevent this from happening again but if it does happen there will be a more transparent processes in place.”
At the end of the testimony, Mayor Strickland commended all the speakers. “I want to thank the family for their courage to share their stories because I don’t know if I could get up and speak if there had been a death in my family regardless of the circumstances. I also just want to thank you for your grace. You are in a hard situation – you are angry and you have every right to be angry and you come here with respect…and we want you to know that really means a lot to us.”
Tim Reynon said the Tribe is putting itself out there on this issue to benefit everyone who lives in Tacoma. “If we can somehow establish more credible processes for these things, it makes it better for everybody. We definitely need to get the law changed for when it’s justifiable for law enforcement to shoot to kill. (Jackie’s) family and the community are ready and willing to put the work into it to see that those changes are made. We can’t let her death be in vain.”
Puyallup Tribal Council Member David Bean addressed the council as well, calling for the city to join the Tribe to bring the Department of Justice in to investigate Jackie’s death. Citing the 2010 police shooting death of First Nations carver John T. Williams in Seattle and the March 27 police shooting of 27-year-old Loreal Tsingine, Navajo, in Arizona, David Bean said “these examples are indicators of a greater problem symptomatic of a police culture that is aggressive toward Native Americans.”
He stated, “Our seemingly localized anecdote is an unacceptable trend that deserves the attention of the Department of Justice. Without outside review, the Tribe, the community and family will not know for certain why this young woman was killed and why her unborn child was killed. Nothing will bring Ms. Salyers back but we owe it to her to better understand what systematic underpinnings led to this kind of senseless tragedy to prevent them in the future. A Department of Justice intervention is necessary for this kind of examination.”
PRAYERS AND TEARS
As the city council meeting opened on April 12, after the flag salute everyone in the council chambers remained standing as members of the Tribe led a Chief Dan George prayer song after which the mayor asked for a moment of silence. Then Jackie’s mother, Lisa Earl, was first to speak even though it was difficult to hold back tears, as it was for other speakers who followed.
“It’s been a hard time for me to deal with this because my daughter was a special person. She was in a relationship with a man who took advantage of her kind heart and it got to be a domestic situation where he threatened my life whenever she tried to get away from him, as well as threatening her life which caused me to move away from a home that I lived in for 20-some years because I was fearful of this man – not for myself but for my family,” she said. “My daughter was a beautiful person and I always had hope for her. My hope was the he was going to be arrested and taken away so that she could move on with her life and we could move on with her.”
Jackie’s cousin Nicholas Gilman said the family hasn’t even been able to grieve properly. “In our ways, we’re supposed to put her pictures away and not speak her name for a year. This tragedy has stricken not just this family but this Tribe, this community and Native people all over the country. This cannot happen again. We should be able to feel safe outside of our own reservation.”
Many of the speakers called for reforms to the Tacoma Police Department, including dash and body cams, accountability and an end to excessive force.
“I don’t understand how the Tacoma police, according to all the statistics and all the evidence and the witnesses, how they could shoot her in the head and not stop her in some other way,” said Jackie’s great-aunt Dorothy Earl. “Why didn’t they go after Kenneth Wright instead? That’s the person they recognized to be in the car at the time. Why was he allowed to run off? I don’t understand.”
Lisa Earl later recounted how no authorities called to let her know that her daughter had been shot. Instead, she learned of it when people began calling her expressing their condolences.
“During the time that I was never contacted,” she said. “People were sending me e-mails of condolence and I’m like what are you talking about? I didn’t know it was even my daughter.” Lisa Earl said the family also wasn’t notified that an autopsy would be performed on Jackie, and her mother and family discovered that the young woman was pregnant only when it showed up on the autopsy report.
“We’ve been through so much trying to be heard and seen,” said Jackie’s aunt Tammy Rideout. “We’ve been stereotyped, disrespected and judged. We’re a family oriented people and for something like this to happen is just devastating and heartbreaking.”
“People were also calling me to tell me different versions of what was told by the police department,” Lisa Earl said. “These police need to be held accountable. It’s not done until the truth comes out.”
JUSTICE FOR JACKIE UPCOMING EVENTS
The public is invited to join in on two upcoming Justice for Jackie actions in Tacoma. There will be a candlelight vigil on Saturday, April 30, 7:30 p.m. at Sawyer Park, 3315 S. Sawyer St., and a march and rally the next day, May 1, at 2:30 p.m., starting at Sawyer Park and marching to the Tacoma Police Department.