Tacoma, WA — The Tacoma police chief said the incident where an officer ran over people with his police vehicle will be investigated as a deadly force incident.
The incident, which was recorded on video and seen millions of times around the country injured two men, who were treated at area hospitals and released.
Investigators have confirmed the officer who drove through the crowd is 58-year-old Officer Khanh Phan, a nearly 30-year veteran of the force.
The incident started with street racers burning tires in Tacoma on Saturday night.
“With everything going on, that’s where we find joy. To see cars just makes us smile,” said Tavon Williams, who lives in Spanaway.
Tacoma police were called in to clear the intersection when a crowd surrounded one police car. Then suddenly, a video shows the officer revving his engine and driving through the crowd.
“All I just knew was I was being pushed by a great force,” Williams said. He said he was facing away from the action when he suddenly went down.
“I just saw my fellow man under the car. I didn’t even know it was a police car. People are saying, ‘Someone’s under there!’ And instead of getting out of your car to help, because you’re a peace officer, he proceed to go over with the last two tires,” Williams said.
In the tense moments before the officer revved his engine and drove through the crowd surrounding and pounding on his car Saturday night, his chief says he felt he was in immediate danger.
“Individuals began hitting the body and windows of the vehicle as he was stopped in the street,” said Interim Chief Michael Ake, who explained how officer Phan stopped two blocks away to call for medics, when he felt he was safely apart from the crowd.
In a special Tacoma city council meeting Monday night, Ake explained that the officer was responding to 911 calls of street racers, while crowds watched cars “drifting” or skidding in circles.
But when Phan felt threatened by the crowd, he reversed then suddenly drove forward through the crowd and over people.
Tacoma City councilmembers like Conor McCarthy had questions. “One of the things that surprises me,” he said, “when the officer turned his lights on, everybody ran toward the cop car instead of away, and I grew up in Tacoma, and we used to run away.”
“From the footage we’ve seen, dozens of people were run down by this officer,” said Joshua Brumley, an attorney representing Williams. Brumley said they plan to file a lawsuit against either the city of Tacoma, the Tacoma Police Department or both.
“This officer’s response is unreasonable. And the mayor and the people of Tacoma need to ask themselves how many more events like this need to happen? How much more attention does Tacoma have to get before real change can come?” Brumley said.
In the video above, obtained by the Tacoma News Tribune, you can see Williams limping away.
“It’s hard. It’s hard for me right now,” Williams said. “Honestly, it plays over and over like a loop in my head,” he said.
He had to go to the hospital and was treated at MultiCare. He now worries about his job as well.
“I was a licensed barber. I can’t even stand up for long periods of time right now,” Williams said.
The officer involved, Phan, said in a statement through the Tacoma Police Department that he feared for his safety when surrounded by this crowd and drove forward.
“He made a mistake. He made a poor judgment. But he still has to be held responsible for his actions,” Williams said.
The officer called for medics, but Williams said what’s most egregious to him is that the officer left the scene.
“I wouldn’t hit a dog and leave,” Williams said. “It’s a traumatic experience no person should have to go through,” he said.
Protesters marched Sunday night after hearing the officer is on paid leave.
“It’s frustrating,” said Tacoma mayor Victoria Woodards, referring to the video. “It makes you angry, it makes you sad, we could probably take every emotion in the book and someone is feeling it right now.”
Woodards said the council is making sweeping police reforms, and she believes this incident hurts public trust in that process.
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