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Investigation into Tacoma officer who drove through crowd expected to take ‘several more weeks’

Tacoma Police and other law enforcement officers stand in an intersection near the site of a car crash Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in downtown Tacoma, Wash. At least one person was injured when a police car plowed through a crowd of people Saturday night who were watching a downtown street race, the Tacoma News-Tribune reported. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In January, a Tacoma police officer was seen driving his car through a crowd of people, spurring outrage among community members and calls to further look into the incident. Pierce County’s Force Investigation Team (PCFIT) provided an update on those efforts Thursday.

Oversight group reacts in wake of Tacoma officer driving through crowd

The PCFIT — composed of detectives, forensic investigators, and public information officers from an assortment of Pierce County law enforcement departments — has identified six people who were struck by the patrol vehicle so far, having interviewed three of them. It is “attempting to obtain statements from the remaining three.”

“Expect that more information regarding these individuals will be released at a later date,” it said in a Thursday news release.

The investigation team has received 33 tips related to the incident, having made attempts to contact each person. “Several” formal interviews have resulted from that process. With the information garnered from tips — as well as from others who called in to report the incident — the PCFIT has identified other potential witnesses as well, and believes that “there may be additional witnesses who have yet to come forward.”

Investigators have yet to draw any hard conclusions, and believe their work will “likely take several more weeks to complete.”

The officer who drove the vehicle was 58-year-old Khanh Phan, who has served in the Tacoma Police Department for over 29 years. Phan is on administrative leave pending the results of the PCFIT’s investigation.

During the incident, Phan was in his vehicle surrounded by people as part of an attempt to clear an intersection, responding to reports of an illegal street race. Video shows he briefly put the vehicle in reverse, before moving forward and driving through the crowd, visibly injuring at least two people.

While the investigation has played out, Tacoma’s police union and community members have been at odds. While the union has urged residents to “stop sacrificing dedicated public servants at the altar of mob rule for political expediency,” the city’s Community Police Advisory Committee has expressed concerns over an investigative process that still includes members of law enforcement.

Union, community at odds over investigation of officer driving through crowd

“I call it the fox watching the chicken coop,” committee member Louis Cooper said in January. “You can’t have police investigating the police because they’re going to protect their own.”

A bill is currently moving through the state Legislature to ensure that use of force investigations occur independent of law enforcement, which Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards called “Tacoma’s top priority for 2021″ during recent testimony in Olympia.

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