Army Rangers, Alleged Gang Members Exchange Gunshots
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) _ A block party organized by neighbors fed up with drug dealers ended in a gun battle between gang members and soldiers from a nearby Army base, some of whom were called in as reinforcements.
No one was hurt in the fight Saturday night, although it lasted 30 minutes and involved about 20 shooters. About 300 rounds of ammunition were fired, smashing windows and damaging parked cars, police and witnesses said Sunday.
Police arrested two alleged gang members on previous warrants and confiscated several weapons from the soldiers.
The party was given by Army Staff Sgt. Bill Foulk of the 2nd Ranger Battalion at Fort Lewis, south of Tacoma, to rally residents who have been trying to rid the Hilltop district neighborhood of crack dealers, authorities said.
Some of the soldiers from Foulk’s battalion were invited to the party as guests and bodyguards, base spokesman Capt. Martin J. Eckert said.
Foulk called in reinforcements after alleged gang members attacked the party with shotguns and handguns, witnesses and police said.
Ten soldiers were involved in the shootout, Eckert said. Police Sgt. Mike Miller said up to 15 Rangers may have been involved.
Miller said 40 to 55 people were at the party when six to 10 gang members surrounded Foulk’s house and began firing.
Gang members ″were throwing things at the house, they started threatening the people over here with burning the house down and, ‘We’re going to fire up after dark’ and this kind of thing,″ Foulk said.
″That’s when I decided to call back to the battalion and get a hold of any available Ranger that I could and ask him to come out and provide reinforcements,″ said Foulk.
Eckert said Fort Lewis officials will wait for a full police report before determining if any action should be taken against the Rangers. The weapons used by the soldiers were their personal arms, he said.
Police said two semiautomatic rifles, a shotgun, eight automatic handguns and a revolver were recovered from the soldiers.
Some residents complained that tensions had been building all afternoon and said it took police 30 minutes to arrive after they were called.
Police spokesman Mark Mann said he was frustrated that residents had not called earlier.
″There is a fine line between self-defense and vigilantism. Right now, we made no arrests because we think it’s classified as self-defense, but that’s subject to a prosecutor’s review,″ Mann said.
Renae Hartlett accused the soldiers of provoking violence by making a show of force in the neighborhood and accusing some residents of involvement in drugs.
″They was pointing those guns at us and saying they were going to move us out of the neighborhood,″ she said. Hartlett and other black residents of the integrated neighborhood said they saw racist overtones to the confrontation.
Foulk, who is white, said some Rangers were carrying handguns but denied that were brandished before the gunbattle.
″This had nothing to do with (race),″ added Shirley Luckett, a black woman who was at the party.