Pierce County vigilante sparks serious concerns for law enforcement
An incident of attempted vigilante justice in Tacoma has police concerned about what’s been a growing trend both in Pierce County and nationwide.
“There are certain things that as law enforcement we have to do in order to satisfy the courts to have a conviction,” Tacoma Police Officer Loretta Cool told The Candy, Mike and Todd Show. “And without having that guidance or working directly with a law enforcement agency, any citizen out there, they’re just putting themselves and others at risk for no reason.”
This was seen firsthand in Pierce County recently, when a vigilante set up his own sting operation by pretending to be a 14-year-old girl, to lure in a suspected sexual predator. In a video of the encounter he recorded and posted to social media, the suspect hits the would-be crime fighter with his car.
What’s frustrating about the encounter for law enforcement is that it now makes the job of investigating a potential sexual predator that much harder. Even if the man had admitted to a crime in the video, it would have proven extremely problematic from a legal perspective.
“(A video) absolutely cannot be used by law enforcement,” said Officer Cool. “A lot of times when people will send in a video and say ‘this is what happened,’ we can start an investigation but we can’t actually use that video.”
That’s further exacerbated when a video documenting a crime is posted to social media.
“What happens, is when you share it, and we go to contact other witnesses that have seen the video, then we no longer have a witness statement from them, because they’ve already witnessed the video. Because of the way you shared it, it’s really hard to get it as police evidence in a courtroom,” Cool described.
The Northwest’s saga with vigilantes has been well-documented over the years, highlighted by Seattle’s own superhero, Phoenix Jones. Jones patrolled the city streets alongside a team of fellow costumed heroes for roughly a decade before his recent retirement.
Over that period, he frequently found himself at odds with law enforcement, and was even arrested at one point for assault. Police would often voice concerns about a civilian injecting himself into potentially dangerous — and illegal — situations. Today, those same concerns are seen with a new generation of vigilantes.
“I think stepping out of the standard structure and doing that yourself is on a many levels a terrible idea,” KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis noted. “That’s actually what the Tacoma Police Department and other police departments have said as well — they they don’t see this trend as interesting from a news value standpoint. They see it as as tremendously worrisome.”