Lawsuit alleges Tacoma police, dispatchers failed man killed in parking lot fight
A lawsuit has been filed against the city of Tacoma and South Sound 911 alleging dispatchers and police officers failed to coordinate a response to a confrontation between two men which devolved into deadly gunfire two years ago.
A complaint filed by the surviving spouse of Job Irving also alleges an armed, white gas station attendant attacked and shot the 30-year-old U.S. Army soldier due to anti-Black racism. Police reports show the recently hired gas station employee used racial slurs in reference to carrying weapons at work and fired a semi-automatic rifle at a thief fleeing with a credit card machine.
The gas station owner and the clerk are also defendants in the lawsuit. The clerk told KNKX over the phone that the allegations are false. The owner said the clerk no longer works for him.
Records show the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney's Office did not charge the employee after determining his self-defense claim could not be disproven and Irving was effectively trespassing.
The attorney for Irving's spouse, Joan Mell, shared dispatch records, 911 call recordings and video footage with KNKX. KNKX also requested police reports from South Sound 911.
Irving’s killing on Aug. 25, 2021, was among a then-annual-record of 34 homicides, eclipsed by 45 in 2022.
The police department has drawn frequent complaints about response times in recent years and sometimes blamed the region's 911 call center for improperly coding the severity of incidents. Meanwhile, South Sound 911 has suffered from persistent understaffing and mandatory overtime.
The Tacoma Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. South Sound 911 declined to comment on the pending litigation.
“South Sound 911 remains committed to the safety of our community, and we endeavor to ensure the prompt delivery of emergency services,” said a statement from spokesperson Kris McNamar.
The lawsuit filed in Pierce County Superior Court last month accuses South Sound 911 of improper training and supervision while faulting the police department for failing to address known communication issues with dispatchers.
The complaint also alleges South Sound 911 violated the state Public Records Act by not releasing computer dispatch logs and audio recordings until about six months after the police investigation concluded.
Irving, the employee and the gas station owner called 911 about the confrontation near 15th Street and Sprague Avenue four times in all, according to police and dispatch records. Tacoma police responded over an hour after the first call when a nearby officer heard gunfire.
The confrontation began around 10:40 p.m. while Irving and several friends were dancing and throwing a ball around a gas pump before heading to a bar for Irving’s “dad-themed” birthday celebration, according to police reports and surveillance video provided to KNKX. His friends wore baseball caps and big-brimmed hats. Irving, the only Black person, was dressed in a red polo, khaki shorts and socks with sandals.
When the gas station clerk told them to quit throwing the ball, Irving strode up to him with a tape measure stretched between his arms. The employee stepped between Irving’s legs, wrapped up his torso and slammed him to the ground, bruising and cutting his head. The employee kicked Irving as he followed him to the gas station convenience store, and Irving’s friends pulled him back to the car to leave.
The gas station clerk called 911 for the first time at about 10:45 p.m. alleging Irving had attacked him with the tape measure and his friends had “construction weapons.” A 911 call taker radioed the report to police but did not send officers to the scene. A dispatch report shows no call priority was input for police officers.
Irving returned to the gas station about 20 minutes later, after dropping his friends off at a bar. He also called 911 to report the assault by the gas station employee but hung up before providing details about the interaction.
Irving told the call taker, “Please send someone here. Thank you,” before walking into the convenience store, according to a recording of the call.
The gas station employee called 911 again when Irving came inside.
“Try and keep yourselves calm and separated, all right. I know he’s inside the store now. I’ve updated the units,” the call taker said on a recording.
The employee insisted on keeping the line open until the police arrived.
Irving stood by the door video recording himself and refusing to leave. He also shut down another customer who was goading him into another fight with the clerk.
“There’s a law for a reason. You wait for the law. Let the law handle it,” Irving said. “I just want this to get squashed in the right way.”
The 911 call taker asked for an update after about 15 minutes, and the employee said, “I need to close and I don’t want to tussle with the guy.”
“I’m not going to stand here all night waiting for the police to show up,” he added later.
“So we’re super busy tonight is all I can say,” the call taker replied.
Afterward, Irving recorded himself telling the employee he was a regular at the convenience store and that they’d spoken when he came by earlier in the day.
“I’ve met you six times already coming into this store,” Irving said.
Several minutes later, the gas station employee called the owner for help to get Irving to leave, saying he wanted to prevent things from escalating. The owner then called 911 himself, and the call taker assured him police would respond as soon as possible.
At the same time, Irving recorded himself and the clerk speaking casually about their shared values around military service.
The employee ended the 911 call after 30 minutes and said he’d call back if Irving hadn’t left by closing time at midnight.
The gunfire rang fire out shortly after 11:58 p.m.
Security footage provided to KNKX shows the employee leave the register a few minutes before midnight, walk several paces up to Irving and grab him by the shoulders. The men grappled head to head until falling through the front doors.
The wrestling continued for about 30 seconds. Irving was on top. Then the employee rolled onto his side, pulled a pistol from his waistband and fired as he pushed Irving away. He shot Irving eight more times as he rose to his feet and then limped back into the store. The employee had also shot himself in the leg once while firing a total of 15 times.
Eight police officers arrived at the gas station within about five minutes. Irving later died at the hospital.
While on the way to get a CT scan of his self-inflicted gunshot wound, police reports show the gas station employee repeatedly complained about police not responding when he calls.
"These two gang bangers kept harassing me. The police never show up," the man reportedly said.