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Sept. 24, 2022

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‘They dropped the ball’: Man who allegedly killed Spanaway mom jailed at least 18 times

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About three months before a stray bullet killed a Spanaway mother of nine in a 7-Eleven parking lot, a Tacoma woman accused the alleged shooter of another disturbing act of violence.

While at the hospital in late February, she told Tacoma police that her boyfriend, 40-year-old Jerrmell R. Warren, had grabbed her throat and dragged her from the passenger seat of his car during an argument in a hotel parking lot, court documents allege. An officer also noted an apparent bite mark on her face.

She said it felt like “her face was breaking.”

Choking a partner is one of the strongest predictors of subsequent deadly violence, domestic violence experts say. It’s so dangerous that the state Legislature made it an automatic second-degree assault in 2007.

At the beginning of February, the state Department of Corrections had also issued an arrest warrant for Warren after he failed to report to a probation officer.

But officers didn’t arrest Warren, who has local felony convictions going back to 1997, until after he’d been implicated in three more crimes, including the deadly shooting of Angelina Palmer in Spanaway at the end of May.

The News Tribune combed through dozens of pages of court filings detailing Warren’s lengthy criminal history and contacts with multiple law enforcement agencies over the last several months. They show how he avoided harsher prison sentences in multiple cases through plea deals and police failed to capture him as he crisscrossed between Pierce County jurisdictions.

Charging documents don’t detail any investigation into the alleged February assault beyond the initial interview, indicating Tacoma police had enough evidence to arrest Warren that night.

Why wasn’t he arrested?

Department spokesperson Wendy Haddow said officers weren’t able to locate Warren because the woman who reported the assault didn’t have a current address for him or know where he went after leaving the hotel. She said officers noted a high call volume that night in police reports.

Haddow could not say whether or not officers searched Warren’s name for his criminal history or active warrants but told The News Tribune the severity of the assault allegation would have resulted in a thorough effort to locate him regardless. She said it’s critical to find and arrest domestic violence and assault suspects immediately because their cations can quickly escalate.

“Officers do the best they can for every victim,” Haddow said.

A Special Victims Unit detective later took over the case and referred it to prosecutors on March 16, Haddow said. The detective wrote a prosecutor reviewed the case in May.

For domestic violence cases, Washington police officers are required to arrest a suspect if an assault occurred within four hours. After that, a police report “could be sitting in a prosecutor’s inbox for months,” said Steve Graham, a defense attorney and former prosecutor for King and Ferry counties.

Warren’s girlfriend reported the alleged assault four days later, after staying with Warren at the hotel he brought her to on South Hosmer Street. She told police Warren didn’t hold her against her will but went to the hospital because “I will not put up with the abuse.”

At that time, Warren also was under the state DOC’s supervision following prison sentences related to sexually assaulting another inmate in the county jail and attempting to elude police while driving under the influence. DOC records show he was jailed for violating the terms of his release at least three times between June 2021 and January 2022.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made follow-through on DOC arrest warrants hit or miss, Graham said. Due to health concerns, many inmates don’t sit in jail long unless their charges are particularly serious.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Sgt. Darren Moss said Pierce County Jail isn’t booking detainees solely on DOC warrants due to the pandemic. Some have to be taken to the regional SCORE jail in Des Moines and are generally released within a few days.

“I think a lot of police officers figure that these DOC warrants aren’t necessarily going to be enforced,” Graham said.

Alcohol abuse

Records also suggest Warren has a serious problem with alcohol — five DUI convictions, three of them since 2016.

“I believe my alcohol usage has affected everything that’s gone wrong in my life,” he told a Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy following the arrest leading to his 2019 conviction, according to charging documents.

Sentencing documents from Warren’s 2019 and 2017 DUI convictions do not show requirements for him to complete substance abuse treatment. A DOC spokesperson said records related to any therapy Warren received in prison are private health information.

Court-mandated substance abuse treatment is both more common and harsher for misdemeanors brought in Washington’s district courts rather than felonies filed in superior courts, according to Graham.

“There’s a little bit of a paradox in our court system,” Graham said.

County district court probation officers are generally strict enforcers of treatment and testing requirements, especially for repeat offenders, Graham said. DOC probation officers supervising felony convicts tend to be more focused on people with a history of violence or sex offenses rather than facilitating urine screens.

Prosecutors again charged Warren with felony DUI in connection to an October 2021 arrest by Washington State Patrol where he reportedly reached speeds of 90 mph on State Route 512. DOC released him back into community custody a few days later following another violation of his release conditions.

Prior to the gunshot that killed Palmer in May, Warren was seen drinking from what appeared to be a nearly empty liquor bottle, charging papers say.

Spanaway shooting

Before bullets whizzed across the 7-Eleven parking lot near Pacific Avenue on May 26, Warren stumbled around gas pumps and aggressively approached cars, court documents citing witness interviews and surveillance footage say.

The ruckus prompted a woman to yell at him to stay away from her. Warren leaned into the vehicle, held a gun to her head and said he could end her life, the driver of the car alleged.

Warren leveled the gun at the driver as well before relenting, according to charging papers. He said he wasn’t “going to do this right now” and tucked the gun in his waistband.

But Warren didn’t walk away and got upset when the driver said he couldn’t just pull guns on people. The driver told police Warren opened his car door and ordered him to get out.

That’s when the driver grabbed a can of bear spray from his door, he said. Surveillance video shows Warren retreating backward toward a set of gas pumps.

Warren’s head was down as he fired off the first of several rounds just before 9 p.m, a witness whose truck was hit by a bullet told police.

Surveillance footage showed Palmer was making her way across the parking lot and started moving as if reacting to gunfire.

Suddenly, she fell flat on her back. A car ran her over while trying to escape the chaos.

Both Warren and the car he’s suspected of shooting at were gone by the time deputies arrived.

Several people tried to give first aid to Palmer before deputies took over. She died at the hospital from a gunshot wound to the chest. The medical examiner said she could have survived the injuries from the car hitting her.

The next day, investigators received a report Warren was spotted at a Spanaway apartment complex driving the car from the shooting, according to charging documents. It belonged to his girlfriend — the one who reported he assaulted her in February.

Tacoma armed carjacking and pursuit

Two days after the shooting in Spanaway, a 911 caller reported an armed carjacking in Tacoma’s Lincoln District, according to charging papers. Warren soon became a suspect.

Police caught him another two days later after a friend of the carjacking victim reported the car was sitting in her driveway near Midland and Warren was inside with a gun.

Since Warren appeared to be asleep, responding deputies frisked him for weapons and then tried to wake him up. When his eyes opened, he grabbed the steering wheel and shifted the car into gear while deputies tried to pull him out of the car.

Deputies stunned Warren with a Taser as he continued to struggle. With officers still hanging from his arms, he threw the car into reverse and hit a patrol vehicle. He lost them when he drove through the front yard of a house.

Warren’s vehicle reached speeds of 80 mph before crashing into another car at 72nd Street and Golden Given Road, charging documents say. He managed to keep driving after deputies attempted to send his car into a spin on Pacific Avenue.

Deputies say Warren twice rammed a pursuing patrol car. When the deputy inside got out and drew his gun, Warren nearly ran him over.

Warren crashed again in Tacoma’s South End and fled on foot near South Fawcett Avenue after hitting another civilian vehicle. Deputies found more than 50 9mm bullets in the pockets of his jacket but no gun.

Once in custody, Warren received treatment for a cut on his chin at the hospital. While receiving medical care, he tried to run out of the hospital room and a deputy tackled him.

Warren surrendered, saying he was “done.”

Family plans lawsuit

Warren now faces a litany of charges in connection to four incidents: second-degree murder, multiple counts of assault, unlawful possession of a firearm, attempting to elude police, and felony DUI. Charging documents say he also had two active warrants in Kent Municipal courts when he was arrested.

More could be on the way.

Prosecutors are reviewing the investigation into the carjacking in May, according to Tacoma police. Court documents from the pursuit said prosecutors were considering a first-degree robbery charge, as well as offenses related to the collisions during the chase.

In setting Warren’s bail at $3 million last month, Superior Court Commissioner Craig Adams called his criminal history “horrific.” Prosecutors said he had been booked into county jail more than 18 times and implicated in 30 cases referred to their office.

But Warren avoided convictions on so-called strike offenses on multiple occasions, three of which would have necessitated a lifetime prison sentence without the possibility of parole under state law.

In the last several years, Warren had second-degree assault charges reduced or dismissed as a part of guilty pleas in 2010 and 2017. He also had rape and promoting prostitution charges reduced in 2019 and 2017.

“It sounds like there were a lot of missed opportunities for the system to have interceded here,” said Graham, the defense attorney and former prosecutor.

“With the benefit of hindsight, it’s really hard to ascertain why a person got away with things as long as they did,” he added. “But still, the frequency of the police contacts with this defendant makes you wonder how he would’ve repeatedly slipped through.”

For the family of Angelina Palmer, the slain Spanaway woman, it feels like too little, too late.

“Why did it take for someone to die to get on the ball?” her brother, Willard Palmer, told The News Tribune. “Why did my sister have to die in order for you guys to do your job?”

Willard Palmer said he feels Warren received lenient plea deals from prosecutors in past cases and would have been in prison in May if he hadn’t. He said he also wonders why more resources weren’t devoted to arresting Warren prior to his sister’s death in connection to earlier incidents and the DOC warrant.

“I think they dropped the ball,” Willard Palmer said. He added later, “This could have been prevented.”

While planning his sister’s funeral for later this month, Willard Palmer said he is in the early stages of contacting attorneys in hopes of filing a lawsuit against law enforcement, prosecutors and the state.

Willard Palmer said he’s not interested in a monetary reward, but rather ensuring no other family faces a similar tragedy.

“Accountability is what I’m looking for,” he told The News Tribune.

Whether the Palmers will be able to make their case to a judge is unclear.

“When the system drops the ball, there’s really no legal recourse, just political embarrassment,” Graham said.

Angelina Palmer’s family plans to bury her at Calvary Cemetery in Tacoma. A GoFundMe for her funeral costs had raised nearly $14,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.

“I do thank the community for everything that they’ve done,” Willard Palmer said. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to do a funeral altogether.”

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