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Suspect in Puyallup standoff was armed with 12-gauge shotgun, police say

Police say the man shot at officers with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with birdshot rounds.

PUYALLUP, Wash. — A man accused of injuring two Puyallup police officers during a five-hour standoff was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, according to probable cause documents.

Muelu Salanoa Jr., 37, was charged Thursday with two counts of first-degree attempted murder, first-degree burglary, felony harassment, violation of a court order and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

He pleaded not guilty Thursday. His bail was set at $2 million.

The standoff began Jan. 24 when Puyallup police officers responded to the River Trail Apartments around 1:17 p.m. after a woman reported Salanoa, who is her estranged boyfriend, forced his way into her apartment and threatened to shoot her. Salanoa was hiding in a closet, the woman said.

The woman had two no-contact orders against Salanoa in 2021 and 2022, according to probable cause documents.

Officers spoke with Salanoa through the apartment door over the course of several hours.

Around 2:34 p.m., officers came up with a plan to dislodge the apartment door from its hinges and get inside. Officers heard a long bang against the door, and one detective used a battering ram twice against the door. Officers heard two “loud blasts” from the apartment followed by a third blast about 10 seconds later and what sounded like handgun rounds being fired.

Salanoa had fired a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with birdshot rounds through the closed door, police said.

Two officers were struck by gunfire, one of whom was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The other had minor injuries.

Over the next few hours, Salanoa fired additional shots, and police returned fire. Police said it appeared Salanoa was hit. At one point, police said Salanoa shot down a police drone that was being used to see into the apartment.

Salanoa left the apartment and was arrested at 6:53 p.m.

He was taken to Tacoma General Hospital to be treated for a gunshot wound to his hand.

Salanoa has prior felony convictions for first-degree robbery and second-degree assault in 2006. He is prohibited from owning or possessing firearms.

What lead up to the shootout with police and hours long standoff is a domestic violence call. Pierce County deputies responded to help and said domestic violence calls are the ones they get called to the most and the most dangerous.

“We're going into someone else's home. It's not a business, we're not out on the street. They have tools and weapons and other things in their house that could hurt us or hurt their partner and we have to be prepared for that,” said Sgt. Darren Moss with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

Salanoa shouldn’t have had a gun due to prior felony convictions and outstanding domestic violence warrants. New court documents outlined what led to his ex-girlfriend getting a no contact order including allegations of threatening her life and multiple violations of a restraining order.

“A court order can sometimes really just be a piece of paper. And sometimes an abuser has made up their mind that they're going to continue to harm this person, regardless of what the law says,” said Elizabeth Montoya, with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Montoya encourages people to connect with survivor advocates to help them through the process of trying to leave a relationship and try to stay safe.

Montoya said there is another tool at judges’ disposal that could help. In 2020, the state passed the “Tiffany Hill Act” which allows judges to order accused abusers to wear GPS ankle devices monitored by officials and linked to an app on the victim’s phone, but most courts aren’t using it.

“To be honest, it costs money to implement those things and whether that's lack of resources or just lack of capacity, it hasn't been implemented in a lot of communities. So that's one less strategy or choice that a person might have to keep safe,” Montoya said.

Pierce County prosecutors said they have been pushing for that technology and should start requesting it in courts this month.

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