First Responders

Tacoma Police Officer Drives Into a Crowd — Here’s What You Need To Know

January 26, 2021Joshua Skovlund
tacoma police

Screen grab from video posted to Facebook by Jryari Ruiz. Composite image by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Several videos posted on social media Saturday night showed an illegal gathering of cars doing doughnuts in a blocked-off intersection in Tacoma, Washington, that ended with an officer driving a squad car into a crowd of people. Interim Chief Mike Ake of the Tacoma Police Department briefed the City of Tacoma Community’s Police Advisory Committee on the incident Monday night.

Ake said they received multiple 911 calls and complaints connected to the street event blocking traffic at South Ninth Street and Pacific Avenue in Tacomas Theater District. A large group approached an arriving squad car and surrounded the front and sides of the police vehicle. The officer at the wheel, identified as Khanh Phan, 58, in a TPD press release, attempted to back away from the crowd after they started hitting his vehicle. However, he was unable to continue backward for unknown reasons. Phan has served with the TPD for almost 30 years, according to the release.

A body-worn camera was not activated because Phan hadn’t been issued one, but he is due to receive a unit on Feb. 4, Ake said. He also noted that dash cameras for the TPD squad cars hadn’t been approved yet, but as the “need” or “desire” arises, the department will have a conversation with the City of Tacoma about funding and implementation. 

Phan put his vehicle in drive and, as seen in a video posted to Twitter, barreled through the crowd gathered to the front and sides of his SUV, running over at least one person and striking several more. The videos viewed by Coffee or Die Magazine on social media did not provide a clear view behind Phan to ascertain whether people were blocking a rear escape. 

“A responding Tacoma police vehicle was surrounded by the crowd. People hit the body of the police vehicle and its windows as the officer was stopped in the street,” reads a TPD press release. “The officer, fearing for his safety, tried to back up, but was unable to do so because of the crowd.”

Ake said that the officer proceeded north on Pacific Avenue for a distance before stopping long enough to call in medical aid for the injured people and more law enforcement backup. 

In a video posted to Facebook by Jryari Ruiz, several cars and small trucks are seen burning out tires doing doughnuts in the middle of a four-way intersection blocked off by other vehicles. A fire truck with its emergency lights and sirens running is delayed before passing through the area, but it departs the scene before Phan’s cruiser arrives. 

In the same video, a TPD squad car approaches the crowd, and then someone can be heard saying, “this fool ran them over right here,” as the camera points toward the TPD vehicle. Coffee or Die Magazine could not verify whether Phan was driving the squad car seen in the video. The squad car backs up the hill as a low-riding white pickup truck quickly drives toward the squad car. 

Ake said two people were transported to the hospital, one of whom was released after treatment the same night. The second person was released from the hospital the next day. Ake did not specify the injuries to the people hit by Phan’s squad car. 

The Pierce County Force Investigation Team is investigating the TPD use-of-force incident. Phan is on paid administrative leave until the investigation concludes. The TPD did not respond to requests for further information at the time of the publication.

Protests erupted in Tacoma the following night, leading to calls for charges against Phan and justice for Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died in police custody last year. The Seattle Times reported that a large group, estimated to include 200 people, gathered at Frost Park Sunday, not too far from where Phan struck the individuals Saturday night. The crowd marched for multiple hours with mostly peaceful protests spattered with vandalism when members of the march smashed windows and spray-painted different buildings.

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.

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