Police Patrols Doubled After Army Rangers in Gunfight
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) _ Two days after a shootout between off-duty soldiers and neighbors suspected of selling drugs, officials moved to ease tension by holding a community meeting, doubling patrols and calling in a Justice Department specialist.
Army Sgt. Bill Foulk, whose neighborhood barbecue turned from an anti-crime gathering into a 30-minute gunfight Saturday night, maintained Monday that he and fellow members of an elite Rangers unit acted in self-defense.
″They shot at us, and we fired back,″ he said, pointing at a reputed crack house across the street.
Police arrested two suspected gang members on assault and weapons charges, confiscated guns including two semi-automatic rifles from the Rangers and doubled patrols in the working-class Hilltop neighborhood.
No one was injured, but scuffles and brick-throwing followed on Sunday between Rangers supporters and neighbors who said they were being falsely accused of drug dealing.
″The hill is feeling such intensity right now,″ the Rev. David Alger said Monday. ″These people up here need to be protected. I’m surprised it escalated the way it did - that’s not what’s meant by community mobilization - but on the other hand people are really frightened.
″What we do now is the question.″
Police Chief Ray Fjetland said the incident could have been avoided had residents called police.
Foulk said the gang members were upset that he was videotaping their activities. He said he called additional Rangers to his party when he felt threatened because police are too slow and equipped to act only after violence begins.
″When somebody starts shooting at me and my family, I’m going to shoot back,″ he said.
A neighbor complained that racism was involved, prompting police to call in a U.S. Justice Department community relations investigator.
″The gang members are mostly black, and of course they want to turn this into something racial,″ said Foulk, who is white. He said the neighborhood anti-drug coalition is multiracial and no racism was involved.
Fellow Ranger Sgt. Russell Nolte, who is black, said four of the Rangers involved in the shooting were black.
Fjetland attended a Monday night community meeting organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
″We’re seriously concerned about the way blacks are treated by the police,″ said the Rev. Oscar Tillman, Tacoma chapter president. He also criticized residents.
″You do not get trained soldiers using weapons of death in a neighborhood that small and believe you’re going to come out a winner,″ he said.
Foulk said the Rangers acted on their own time with their own weapons. Army officials said they would await completion of a police investigation before deciding whether disciplinary action is warranted.
But Maj. Clyde Newman, second-in-command of the 2nd Ranger Battalion at nearby Fort Lewis, said that ″from everything I am told by the city police, the Rangers were right. They were having a party, and they were attacked.″