Tacoma police said they shot at an armed man early Saturday who was attacking the Northwest Detention Center, the holding facility in Tacoma for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The man, identified Saturday afternoon as Willem Van Spronsen, 69, of Vashon Island, died at the scene of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Around 4 a.m., officers responded to an ICE employee’s report of a man armed with a rifle and throwing homemade incendiaries at the building and vehicles in the detention center’s parking lot, as well as attempting to ignite a propane tank, according to Tacoma police. Officers say they saw Van Spronsen wearing a satchel and holding flares, as well as the rifle.
Officers reported “shots fired,” police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said, at which point the officers had fired; she did not know whether Van Spronsen also fired.
Officers retreated to cover, uninjured. After medical aid arrived, officers approached Van Spronsen and determined that he had been shot and killed. All four involved officers fired their weapons, she said.
Van Spronsen was arrested during a protest at the Tacoma detention facility on June 26, 2018, according to court documents. Court documents show that Van Spronsen was accused of lunging at a police officer who was trying to arrest a 17-year-old protester. Van Spronsen was accused of wrapping his arms around the officer’s neck and shoulders. Officers found a collapsible baton and a knife in his possession when he was handcuffed.
Van Spronsen wrote, “I am antifa, I stand with comrades around the world who act from the love of life in every permutation. Comrades who understand that freedom means real freedom for all.”
— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) July 14, 2019
The detention center was closed for visitors and on lockdown Saturday afternoon, activists said, and police tape lined the block.
The four male officers involved — whose tenure with Tacoma police ranged from 20 years to 9 months — were placed on paid administrative leave per department policy. Their names won’t be released until further along in the investigation, according to Cool.
ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman confirmed the shooting incident and said no ICE employees were hurt nor involved. She referred questions to Tacoma police.
The shooting comes the day before Sunday’s planned national raid by ICE targeting hundreds of immigrants who have received deportation orders. The raid has sparked fears in the 10 cities targeted for enforcement; Seattle is not among them.
Activist group La Resistencia — also known as NWDC Resistance, after Northwest Detention Center — had initially planned a protest of the facility for Saturday afternoon, but postponed the event by a day after reporting road closures around the center and a 24-hour lock-down of the facility itself.
Maru Mora-Villalpando, an activist with La Resistancia, said the coalition was notified of the incident after the fact, but detainees at the facility, including one that she spoke with, have been left in the dark.
“They were not told that visits would not happen, were not told that the accident happened in the early morning. People in detention always are the last ones to know what’s happening outside,” Mora-Villalpando said.
La Resistencia has also recently dealt with three cases of medical neglect, she added, one of which ended in deportation and then death. “The conditions are getting really, really bad,” Mora-Villalpando said.
A spokesperson for the GEO Group, the private prison company that operates the Tacoma detention center, said that the company’s facilities have never been overcrowded or housed unaccompanied minors, the issue that has sparked national protests.
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