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News / Northwest

Prosecutors seek to charge 15-year-old as adult for allegedly shooting Tacoma detective

By Peter Talbot, The News Tribune
Published: August 29, 2023, 7:30am

TACOMA — Pierce County prosecutors are seeking to charge a 15-year-old as an adult for allegedly shooting a Tacoma Police Department detective who confronted the boy after he ran from a stolen car.

The teen was charged Monday in Pierce County Juvenile Court with second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, second-degree taking a motor vehicle without permission, first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and obstructing a law enforcement officer.

A spokesperson for the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Adam Faber, said the office plans to argue that the respondent’s case should be moved to adult court due to his age and because he’s charged with a serious violent offense. A second 15-year-old also faces criminal charges of unlawful possession of a stolen vehicle and obstructing a law enforcement officer, but because those are not serious violent offenses, his case will remain in juvenile court.

The News Tribune generally does not publish the names of juveniles charged with a crime. A decision on whether to prosecute the alleged shooter as an adult has not yet been made.

The Aug. 23 shooting in Tacoma’s South End left a 27-year veteran of the Police Department hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the shoulder that police said wasn’t life threatening. A spokesperson for the department said he was discharged Sunday from a local hospital.

A plea of guilty or not guilty was not entered for the alleged gunman at a Monday afternoon hearing in a courtroom of Remann Hall. A hearing to decide whether the case is moved to adult court was set for Sept. 11. He will be arraigned once the court decides where he’ll be prosecuted.

A plea of not guilty was entered on behalf of the second teenager. Commissioner Doris Walkins decided that both teens will remain in custody at Remann Hall until further detention review hearings. Prosecutors said they considered both a threat to community safety, and they noted that the alleged gunman was convicted of second-degree robbery in Pierce County in a case from 2020.

Family and friends of the teenagers, along with news reporters and outside observers, packed the small courtroom to capacity during the proceedings. The alleged gunman’s father, Steven Kent, addressed the court and said he wanted everyone to “hyper focus” on the fact that the person before them was a child.

Outside the courtroom, Kent briefly spoke with The News Tribune. Asked what his feelings were on prosecutors seeking to charge the case in adult court, Kent said his son, who would be a freshman in high school this fall, is not as intellectually developed as other children his age and has been medicated for cognitive disorders. He said he doesn’t think his son fully understands the magnitude of his situation.

“Regardless if he is actually guilty of the things he’s been accused of, he’s a child,” Kent, 41, said.

According to charging documents, the victim was one of several police officers working a citywide emphasis mission focused on locating and recovering stolen vehicles. The detective — who police have so far declined to identify — was completing paperwork for two stolen vehicles found in an apartment complex in the 9300 block of South Ash Street when a police sergeant saw a 2017 Hyundai spinning its tires in a roadway that goes through the complex.

The driver, identified by investigators as the alleged gunman’s accomplice, reportedly took off at high speed, and the sergeant followed in an unmarked vehicle. While radioing the suspect’s location, a patrol car caught up to the Hyundai and activated its emergency lights, according to the declaration for determination of probable cause. The driver then pulled over on South Hosmer Street, south of the apartment complex’s entrance, and two people ran from the car.

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Meanwhile, the detective was in the complex, sitting in an unmarked vehicle while wearing a ballistic vest that identified him as a police officer, records state. After hearing the information about the fleeing suspects, he went to the rear of the complex and saw the alleged driver run across the roadway in front of him. The other teen wasn’t far behind, and the detective tried to cut him off.

When the detective got closer, the teenager allegedly pulled a revolver. The detective reportedly said something to the effect of “don’t shoot me” while the teen fired the gun through the detective’s open passenger window, striking him in the right shoulder.

While the teen ran around the back of his vehicle, the detective got out, and prosecutors wrote in charging papers that the man thought he was going to be shot again when the teenager looked at him, but the boy fled. According to the probable cause document, the detective believed a patrol car speeding into the complex deterred a second gunshot.

Police worked to contain the area, and a police dog was called to the scene, which reportedly led officers to find a .38 caliber revolver behind an apartment building.

Two hours after the incident began, officers located both teenagers under the deck of a house on South 95th Street, according to the probable cause document. Video cameras from the residence reportedly showed them climb over a fence at the edge of the apartment complex, immediately run to the deck and crawl underneath it.

Shooting brings renewed focus to youth crime

Last week’s shooting was the second incident in 12 hours where a Tacoma police officer was shot at, and it has brought a renewed focus to the issue of young people being involved in crime in the city. On Thursday, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards released a statement about the injured detective and gun violence.

Woodards said she was grateful for the city’s police officers and was thankful the detective’s injuries weren’t worse while wishing him a speedy recovery. She called gun violence a “terrible disease” and said the community could not simply accept it as inevitable, especially when it involves children.

“It will take every one of us — law enforcement, government, schools, parents, non-profits and community groups, and individual community members — to step up and make safe spaces for our youth where they can leave the violence and the guns behind and just be kids,” Woodards said.

The mayor said resources are available for the city’s youth, and she mentioned the Summer Teen Late Nights Program, a drop-in event for Tacoma Public Schools students that provides space at schools and community centers for them to spend time with friends in a safe area on summer evenings. Several nonprofits partnered with the city to run the program, and Woodard said it was a prime example of the kinds of partnerships needed to end gun violence.

By the beginning of April, Tacoma had recorded 10 homicides, and five victims were people under the age of 18. Since then, the city’s homicide total has hit 21, but no other victims have been so young. The same has not been true for the cities and towns around Tacoma. A 16-year-old was fatally shot in Lakewood on June 22, and an 18-year-old was shot and killed last week in Parkland.

One Tacoma high school student, Amyrical Tucker, said violence among young people hasn’t stopped over the summer, and she thinks it’s getting worse. She attended Monday’s court hearing for the alleged gunman and said instead of putting young people in jail, the issue needs to be addressed as a matter of mental health. She said young people who end up in dangerous situations are in “survival mode” and aren’t bad people just because they made a bad decision.

Several members of the Black Prisoners’ Caucus also attended the hearing. The caucus is a Washington-based group of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people working to end discrimination, inequality and oppression in the communities from which they come. Eugene Youngblood said he and others were there to show they’re concerned about youth in Tacoma. He said too many young people are made out to be adults when their brains are still developing, and he wants kids to be treated as kids.