There are some Ranger legends out there, the kind a Platoon Sergeant or even a Sergeant Major who has served in the 75th Ranger Regiment might tell you about if you ask him. The time 2/75 got called in to deal with a prison riot in Central America with axe handles, the combat jump into Panama when a new Sergeant got the shit kicked out of him for unhooking his static line, hitting the floor of the plane, and yelling “I quit, I quit”…or was it actually “I’m hit, I’m hit!” I’ve been sifting through the either to try to get the real deal behind some of these stories. Until then, enjoy this Ranger legend from The News Tribute about how some Rangers got into a firefight with a bunch of drug dealers in Tacoma. -Jack
Nobody died in the Ash Street shootout. That was the miracle.
Ten minutes, 300 shots. Army Rangers versus gangsters. Bullet holes and broken windows. The night of Sept. 23, 1989 turned the Tacoma Hilltop into a national bulls-eye, an emblem of unrest.
Bill Foulk, the retired Ranger who led a group of Army buddies in a defensive stand against the gangsters, still lives in the same house: 2319 S. Ash St.
He wouldn’t leave then, even though his commanders urged him to do so. He isn’t leaving now. At 52, it amuses him to think he’s turned into the old guy on the block.
A few years back, a Tacoma police officer said something to him about the shootout.
“He said it was the single most important incident in Tacoma that caused a change in police policies and practices,” Foulk said.
“I guess I’m still surprised that people are still interested in that story,”Foulk added – which is part jive, because he knows it’s a good story.
BLATANT DRUG DEALING
In 1989, Ash Street was an open-air drug market. There were several hot spots, but the epicenter was a little house numbered 2328, where Renae Harttlet, 18, lived with her boyfriend, Mark “Marco”Simmons – the main dog on the street, according to neighbors who remember.
The drug traffic had always been around, but by the summer 1989, it had grown blatant, fueled by an influx of gang members moving in from California and other areas.
“We had this open drug-gang phenomenon that was occurring in Tacoma that we had never experienced before,” said Bob Sheehan, now an assistant police chief, then a sergeant who worked the Hilltop area. “We didn’t know how to respond to it. We were doing our best but we were struggling with it.”
Ash Street neighbors groused to police, called 911 repeatedly, and got nowhere.
One of them was Shirley Luckett, then 33 and a young mother. She lived at 2360.
Luckett was a busybody and a spitfire – the type who took down license plates, took no guff and called police on a regular basis.
“I’m always looking at my surroundings – I like to feel safe,”she said. “My son, he couldn’t ride his bike to the store and wear his red shirt without them gangsters chasing him home. You have a right to live anywhere, peacefully, without that junk and trash spilling over on you.”
The typical response from police was tepid, neighbors felt. Community-oriented policing – getting out of the car, getting to know neighbors – was a coming trend, still viewed with suspicion by veteran cops who typically came up in the ’60s and preferred the old ways.
Police Chief Ray Fjetland pushed the new programs, but old habits were hard to break.
“They used to call it ‘over the hood or over the radio,’ “said Bob David, 52, a retired Tacoma police officer, and one of the first responders to the Ash Street shooutout. “That’s the way a patrolman handled his day. If it didn’t come over the hood – if the fight didn’t come over the hood of the police car – you could drive away and let it resolve itself. Because that way there’s less violence, less stress, and that’s the way things were done.”
Read the full story at the thenewstribune.com.