TACOMA, Wash. — A Tacoma police union rebuked city leaders Wednesday for expressing concern about the actions of an officer who drove through a crowd while responding to reports of street racing.
Tensions have escalated since Saturday night’s incident at South 9th Street and Pacific Avenue, when multiple cell phone videos surfaced showing officer Khanh Phan rev the engine of his patrol SUV before lunging forward, running over at least one person and injuring two.
Police have said Phan feared for his safety because the group was banging on his SUV and yelling.
Phan, 58, was placed on paid administrative leave. He has been with the department nearly 30 years.
The City Council and Citizens Police Advisory Committee both called special meetings this week to discuss police accountability and the issue of street racing in the city.
Council members have mostly stayed neutral on the matter, saying they’re concerned by what they saw on videos but are awaiting results from an investigation being conducted by the Pierce County Force Investigation Team.
“We know many across our community are feeling troubled, disheartened and have many questions for us at this time. We also recognize these events may shake their trust in government. We know many across our community are tired, and we are, too,” the council said in a joint statement.
“We are troubled by the actions of the Tacoma Police officer involved. We are also concerned by what we have heard about street racing, destruction of public property, and the businesses that experienced property damage. The events that transpired this weekend certainly do not reflect what we jointly envision and hope for Tacoma’s future.”
The next morning, Tacoma police union representatives released a statement alleging city leaders passed judgment on Phan “and all Tacoma police officers by again implying wrongdoing and criminality spurred by racist tendencies.”
They did not specify which city leaders or which comments they were responding to.
Mayor Victoria Woodards told The News Tribune on Wednesday she knows police unions exist to advocate on behalf of their members and that’s what Tacoma Police Union Local 6 did with its statement.
The union described Phan as having a “stellar record” and said he “is not a racist criminal. He is a human and a dedicated public servant who reacted to a violent mob trying to do him harm.”
Investigators estimate there were about 100 people gathered watching the sideshow, which included a few cars spinning in circles in the intersection and blocking some downtown streets.
Phan was one of several officers who responded to break up the crowd.
“We’ve got to look at everything that happened,” Woodards told The News Tribune Wednesday. “Watching the video was very concerning, and I think acknowledging how people are feeling about what they saw is really important. But it does not negate the fact that we need a full, independent investigation.”
There is no timeline for the completion of the investigation, which is being handled by a recently formed multi-jurisdictional team tasked with investigating police force in Pierce County. Although Tacoma police are part of the team, they will not participate in the investigation since it looks at one of the department’s own.
If prosecutors decide criminal charges are not warranted against Phan, Tacoma police will conduct an internal investigation to determine if he violated any department policies or procedures.
Although union members used terms in their statement like “violent mob,” they urged city leaders to remain neutral.
“To the city’s leaders: let due process run its course. Stop sacrificing dedicated public servants at the altar of mob rule for political expediency,” according to the union’s statement.
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