A Tacoma police officer’s actions are under investigation by an independent police-review body after he drove an SUV through a crowd on Saturday night.
Footage of the incident was widely shared on social media and showed a police vehicle knocking several people to the ground and running over at least one person as onlookers scream. Two people were injured and taken to hospitals, according to the Pierce County Force Investigation Team, which is conducting the review. The injuries are not expected to be life-threatening, and one person had been released as of Sunday morning.
In response to the incident, a large crowd gathered in Tacoma on Sunday evening to protest against the police department. As they marched through downtown, some in the crowd broke windows at buildings including a bail bonds office and the County-City Building.
Mayor Victoria Woodards said in a statement Sunday that Saturday night’s incident “is being taken very seriously” and that she’s called on the city manager and police chief “to ensure that everyone involved is held accountable.”
“For those who woke up this morning feeling outrage, frustration, grief, heartbreak, or confusion, I understand and honor your feelings,” she said. “I, too, am deeply saddened by what we saw last night.”
“I know our community’s resiliency continues to be tested,” Woodards’ statement continued. Last year, the death of Manuel Ellis while in Tacoma police custody spurred protests and outrage in the South Sound city.
“I am concerned that our department is experiencing another use of deadly force incident,” Tacoma interim police Chief Mike Ake said in a statement Saturday night. “I send my thoughts to anyone who was injured in tonight’s event.”
Besides the two people who were hospitalized, “we’re not aware of anyone else seeking treatment” for injuries sustained as a result of the incident, Capt. Dan Pashon, a spokesman for the Pierce County Force Investigation Team, said Sunday.
Police responded to the area, near South Ninth and Pacific Avenue in Tacoma, a little after 6 p.m. and found vehicles and about 100 people blocking the intersection, the department said. The people had gathered for a street race, The News Tribune reported.
In the statement released Saturday night, Tacoma police said that officers were trying to clear the intersection when one vehicle was surrounded by a crowd.
“People hit the body of the police vehicle and its windows as the officer was stopped in the street,” the department said. The officer, fearing for his safety, “drove forward striking one individual and may have impacted others.”
The officer “stopped at a point of safety and called for medical aid,” according to the department, which did not name the officer. The officer, a 58-year-old who has been with the department for 29 1/2 years, has been placed on paid administrative leave, as is standard under department policy.
The incident led protesters to gather in downtown Tacoma, both on Saturday in the immediate aftermath as well as on Sunday evening, when about 100 people had massed in Frost Park as of about 7:30 p.m.
Loosely filling the park, which includes a small patch of grass and stairs in Tacoma’s historic downtown, people on Sunday held signs that said “Defund TPD” and “Justice for Manuel Ellis.”
“We want to see the officer actually fired and charged,” said Jacob, a lifelong Tacoma resident who declined to give his last name. He held a Defund TPD sign. “Paid vacation isn’t a punishment.”
Soon, some maskless men approached him, saying that the street racers were also in the wrong. One said that the night’s protest was a “recipe for disaster,” warning him police were likely to come break it up. No law enforcement presence was visible early in the protest.
Later, as the crowd grew to at least 200 and chanted “Whose Lives Matter? Black Lives Matter,” demonstrators barricaded streets to keep cars out and someone set a trash can on fire. By about 8:15 p.m., they were marching through downtown, and some in the crowd were breaking windows.
Protesters also gathered outside the Pierce County Jail, banging on the surrounding fence and shouting to the people inside.
Investigators are seeking witnesses who recorded video of the officer driving through the crowd, Pashon said, asking them to contact the Puyallup Police Department at 253-770-3343 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The city’s Community Police Advisory Board has scheduled a public online meeting for 6 p.m. Monday to discuss the incident.