Slain officer’s sister steps forward: ‘I’m going to fight for her’

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Tammy Gipe of Kalispell holds a photo of her sister Tina Griswold, a Lakewood, Wash., police officer who was killed on duty on Nov. 29.

Sundays are hard for Tammy Gipe. It was on Sunday morning, Nov. 29, that a man walked into Cafe Forza and opened fire on four Lakewood, Wash., police officers — Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.

All four died at the scene. The stunning blow rippled across Washington and through law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Even so, nobody was rocked more deeply than the officers’ own families.

Tammy Gipe, a longtime Kalispell resident, is Officer Tina Griswold’s big sister.

It’s not easy for her to talk about her sister, a 14-year law enforcement veteran who was cut down long before her short 40-year life was ready to end.

But talk she must.

“She gives me strength — and she’s not here,” Gipe said. “But I’m going to fight for her.”

She’s going to fight for the honor and safety of law officers everywhere. Perhaps she’ll be an advocate for violent crime survivors. Maybe she will work to get criminal justice laws changed. At a minimum she will be an encourager to her community to never lose hope.

“I don’t know what it looks like for me,” she said, “but I have a mission now.”

At the forefront of that mission will be the thought of what her sister would have wanted her to do.

Gipe has lived in the Flathead Valley for 26 years, longer than she lived anywhere before. Her parents have retired in Post Falls, Idaho, but “we were nomads when we were kids.” Tammy was the second oldest of five children, Tina the second youngest.

“As a kid she was quiet, but she always had a determination about her,” Gipe said of the sister eight years her junior.

They both had law-enforcement models as they grew up. Their dad was a sheriff’s deputy for 20 years. Their mom was an administrative assistant at the Washington Supreme Court. Their brother now works in corrections. And Griswold’s father-in-law, Howard Gipe, was a longtime Montana Highway Patrol officer and later Flathead County commissioner.

Griswold knew she wanted to be a police officer by the time she finished high school.

“She had integrity, courage in the family,” Tammy Gipe said. “It made sense that she did that with her life.”

From all accounts shared in interviews with those who knew her, Griswold was the ideal officer.

She never let things slide when it came to officer safety, SeattlePI.com reported. She was part of the riot-response team in Lacey, the police department she left five years ago to be part of the start-up team when Lakewood formed its own police department.

She was aggressive. The Seattle times reported she was “a dedicated mother, good cook and as tough an officer — pound-for-pound — as could be found. “The fastest way to break up a bar fight was to throw Tina in the middle of it,” said Pamela Battersby, Griswold’s friend.”

“She was fearless,” Tammy Gipe confirmed. “She was totally fearless.”

One fellow Lakewood officer, a 6-foot-plus man, told Gipe that he made a mental note when he first met his petite new colleague that he’d have to watch her back. He soon found out that she could watch her own back just fine — and his as well.

Another told her that whenever he was having a bad day, Griswold sensed it. She’d scoot her chair over to his and say, “OK, what is it?”

At one point, Gipe said, Griswold told her police mentor that she wanted to make a better “her.”

“Even though she was short in stature, she didn’t take handouts,” Gipe said.

Gipe has a few regrets about not being able to spend more time with her sister, about the eight-year gap that essentially created two families of children, about the sometimes-rough life Griswold fought her way through.

“Everything you hear in the press was true, but she also was a mother, a sister and a friend,” Gipe said through tears. Griswold left behind her husband, Paul, a 21-year-old daughter, Nicole, and 7-year-old son, Marcus.

“Especially during the holiday season, it is all about family,” Gipe said. “You have to reach out, hug on each other … don’t give up trying to have a close relationship.”

The strong bond she witnessed among the Lakewood police force, the Washington law enforcement community, even the tag-teams of officer escorts as her own family drove back to Montana after the Dec. 8 memorial service in the Tacoma Dome made a huge impact on her.

“I would so love to be part of a team who takes care of each other,” Gipe said.

So she’s pledged to support that team.

Working with a new perspective on a deeply entrenched respect she has for law officers, she’s going to tackle some community issues.

“I always hated politics, and Tina loved it,” she said. “But in order to keep your community safe, you have to push through those things you don’t necessarily want to.”

She’s talking with people to help her get through the grief, sorting out where she could be most effective.

“You have two choices to make,” she said. “You can either let it consume you or you can choose to reach out to others.”

Gipe chose the latter.

“This doesn’t happen unless you have a passion,” she said, determined to set out on a course of activism.

Her sister had that same passion, that tenacity, that commitment to righting what was going wrong.

“If we could all find something that we are passionate about that makes us fearless, what a wonderful world this would be.”

Gipe is convinced that Griswold would have wanted her sister to work toward protecting officers. That’s what she intends to do, starting with a focus on who law officers are.

“They’re human beings, they’re just like me and you,” she said. “But they chose a path in life to serve and protect — and what an honor.

“They know the dangers. But they put their uniform on every day. And the gun. I’m sure they don’t want to ever use it … We just need to respect them for that.”

Reporter Nancy Kimball can be reached at 758-4483 or by e-mail at nkimball@dailyinterlake.com

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