Tacoma police officers under investigation after complaints filed over TikTok videos

VIDEO: Social media posts by three Tacoma officers are under investigation

TACOMA, Wash. — Three Tacoma police officers are under investigation after people complained that videos posted to the officers’ personal social media accounts violated department standards, including one video that went viral this week.

A video posted on officer Sam Lopez’s TikTok account on June 26 shows Lopez criticizing a “defund the police” protest while appearing to be in uniform. The video has been viewed more than 7 million times.

“So I come in this morning, and we’re informed there’s going to be a protest to ‘defund the police.’ Well, that’s fine. I like protests. Except for, they requested a police presence. You know, for their safety. At the ‘defund the police’ event. I (expletive) you not,‘” Lopez said in the video.

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The identifying police badge on the uniform is covered by emojis in the video, but Tacoma Police Department confirmed to The News Tribune on Monday that Lopez is a Tacoma police officer.

Efforts by The News Tribune to reach Lopez through social media were unsuccessful.

Police spokesperson Wendy Haddow told The News Tribune the department is investigating videos by Lopez, in addition to TikTok videos posted by two other officers, Joshua Avalos and Helen Stieben, revolving around protests and the “thin blue line flag.” The flag has come under fire in recent years after being used in association with the Blue Lives Matter movement, a pro-police group formed in response to Black Lives Matter, reported NPR.

Avalos voiced support for the flag in his videos, while Stieben said she felt the flag was divisive and that her goal was to get it removed from all police vehicles. Efforts to reach Stieben and Avalos through social media were unsuccessful.

Some of the videos also have been shared on Twitter. One user, Chad Loder, claimed videos by Lopez and Avalos appear to violate department Professional Standard P4.1.9:

“Officers, when not working within the scope of a Department assignment but maintaining themselves as representative of the Department, and/or using Department equipment or uniforms, shall not, without specific permission from the Chief of Police: address public gatherings, lecture, appear on radio or television, prepare articles for publication, act as correspondent to a newspaper or periodical, release or divulge investigative information, or any other matters of the Department.”

“Officers should NOT appear in uniform or posing with police vehicles on social media and/or dating apps,” Loder said on Twitter.

Tacoma city manager Elizabeth Pauli said in a statement Wednesday the officers have been directed to “cease the unauthorized use of city equipment, uniforms or vehicles in any personal communications.”

“I was made aware of the postings that have understandably raised concern with community members. We are committed to restoring the public’s trust in the work we do as a city, and particularly in the important role that our police department plays in ensuring the safety of our community. We have entered the incident into our complaint management system for investigation and resolution,” Pauli said in a statement.

Pauli added: “The Chief of Police will also be issuing a departmental memorandum to the entire staff to clearly message the prohibition against unauthorized use of city equipment, vehicles and uniforms. Additionally, we will be developing and issuing a policy directed at personal use of social media. We are currently in the process of reviewing draft policies representing current best practices.”

Stephen Hagberg, member of the city’s Citizen Police Advisory Committee, told The News Tribune he was glad the matter was brought to his attention.

“At this point, I know CPAC will support Internal Affairs in their investigation on the matter through the normal complaint process and certainly will keep watch on the complaint to the resolution,” Hagberg said in an email statement. “… I encourage everyone who has a complaint to submit it to 311, Tacoma Police Department’s website or any of the other methods available. Each complaint is investigated and the person with the complaint will receive letters from both Chief Ramsdell and City Manager Elizabeth Pauli.”