Tacoma police provide further information on fatal shooting

Willem Van Spronsen confronted officers at the Northwest Detention Center, pointing a rifle at them.

Following the July 13 fatal shooting of islander Willem Van Spronsen at the Northwest Detention Center, the Tacoma Police Department released additional details of the investigation late last week and identified the four officers involved.

The department’s statement said that the officers were called to the center about 4 a.m. after reports that a man was throwing incendiary devices at vehicles and outbuildings. The officers said they were confronted by Van Spronsen, who had pointed his rifle at them. They told him to drop the weapon, but he did not, and the officers fired at him, striking him with two rounds, causing fatal injuries. His rifle was recovered at the scene.

The statement, provided by spokesperson Officer Loretta Cool, also said that his rifle appeared to have malfunctioned during the incident. In a follow-up email, Cool said she could not be more specific regarding the malfunction and that the department still did not know if Van Spronsen had fired shots.

The police department also said that video surveillance showed Van Spronsen “manipulating” an AR-15 style rifle, starting a fire at a building the detention center owns, placing flares in “strategic” locations, including under a 500-gallon propane tank, and throwing what police believe to be molotov cocktails at buildings. The statement indicated that Van Spronsen continued until police arrived and made no attempt to flee when police sirens became audible.

The department said possible motives include his association with Antifa and the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club, as well as a custody dispute with his ex-wife. As of July 18, Tacoma police were still reviewing Van Spronsen’s manifesto, which they said had circulated widely before his death, but which the police were unaware of prior to the incident.

Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell credited the officers’ commitment to protect and serve, which he said may have saved lives.

“The brave acts of responding officers and the heroism displayed by them in the face of a life or death situation is honorable and courageous,” he added.

Willem Van Spronsen’s adult daughter, Ariel Van Spronsen, released a statement of her own to media outlets and on her Facebook page on July 16.

“He had a demeanor that drew people to him, a great voice, and a giant heart,” she wrote.

She said that she believed her father wanted the morning of July 13 to be “as victimless as possible.” The car he blew up was his own, she said, and she believes he made sure no other protesters were around.

“He meant to make a big statement, and he did. I knew he wanted to go out that way. He had talked about it before — not the ranting crazy thoughts that you might imagine — but the calm and passionate discussion of something that he wasn’t afraid to face for the greater good,” she wrote, indicating that she believes he died happy.

The Tacoma Police Department identified the four officers in the shooting as Sgt. C. Martin and Officers J. Correa, E. Allman and W. Gustason. They have been with the department ranging between nine months and 20 years, according to the Tacoma News Tribune.

The officers will be off duty for at least 15 days, Cool said. In that time, they need to interview with investigators, go to the range for a confidence shoot and speak with a psychologist.

At the end of the investigation, an internal review will take place, including a Deadly Force Review Board, which is comprised of citizens and police personnel. The work of that board is not public, Cool said, but citizens apply to sit on it.

Public disclosure requests will be processed when the investigation is completed, the department said.