immigration
Ruby and Brenda Amezquita outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
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Ruby and Brenda Amezquita outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
Credit: KUOW/Liz Jones

Protesters demand closure of ICE detention center after fatal encounter

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) - Demonstrators returned to an immigration jail in Washington state a day after an armed man threw incendiary devices at the detention center.

Willem Van Spronsen, 69, was found dead Saturday after four police officers arrived and opened fire.

The demonstrators were protesting the facility and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement roundups that were supposed to begin Sunday. There were about 100 people gathered outside the center, the television station reported.

The facility holds migrants pending deportation proceedings. The detention center has also held immigration-seeking parents separated from their children under President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy, an effort meant to deter illegal immigration.

The center's operator, GEO Group, said in a statement it was aware of a "community gathering" Sunday. "We respect every individual's right to use their voice and express their opinions," the center said.

Bullet holes riddled the scene Sunday, The News Tribune reported. Police searched Van Spronsen's Vashon Island home, the Tacoma newspaper reported.

Van Spronsen's friend, Deb Bartley, told The Seattle Times she thinks he wanted to provoke a fatal conflict. She described him as an anarchist and anti-fascist.

"He was ready to end it," Bartley said. "I think this was a suicide. But then he was able to kind of do it in a way that spoke to his political beliefs. I know he went down there knowing he was going to die."

Van Spronsen was accused of assaulting a police officer during a protest outside the detention center in 2018, The News Tribune reported.

According to court documents, he lunged at the officer and wrapped his arms around the officer's neck and shoulders, as the officer was trying to detain a 17-year-old protester June 26, 2018, the newspaper reported. According to court documents, police handcuffed Van Spronsen and found that he had a collapsible baton and a folding knife in his pocket.

Van Spronsen pleaded guilty to the charge of obstructing police, and he was given a deferred sentence in October, The News Tribune reported. Van Spronsen had worked as a self-employed carpenter and contractor, according to court documents. He was also a folk singer, playing shows on Vashon Island and around the Seattle area, The Times reported.