Prosecutor issues decision on Tacoma police officer who drove through street-race crowd
July 14, 2022 Updated Thu., July 14, 2022 at 9 p.m.
TACOMA - A Tacoma police officer who drove his vehicle through a crowd of pedestrians Jan. 23, 2021, during an illegal street racing event won’t be charged with any crimes, Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett told Tacoma Police Chief Avery Moore on Thursday.
Officer Khanh Phan arrived at the scene of a “sideshow”, an illegal gathering of vehicles that take over a public street to spin in circles. While in his vehicle, he was surrounded by some of the estimated 100 people gathered at the intersection of Pacific Avenue and South 9th Street to watch the event.
Numerous videos of the incident show that some members of the crowd pounded on and kicked Phan’s police cruiser.
Phan briefly tried to back up but then instead drove through the crowd. He said he was in fear for his life.
Several people were knocked over by the cruiser, and one person appears to have been run over by one of the vehicle’s wheels.
“We will not file criminal charges against any of the involved officers, nor would we file charges against anyone, police officer or not, who had been similarly unlawfully restrained and attacked by a violent mob,” Prosecutor Mary Robnett said in the letter.
The Prosecutor’s Office identified one spectator, Anthony Huff-McKay, who they say instigated the crowd to attack responding police officers. According the letter, he shouted “block the cops” and obscenities.
“The spectator crowd responded and swarmed around the lead patrol car driven by (Officer) Phan,” the letter states.
Huff-McKay was the person who might have been run over the cruiser.
Robnett said Phan’s actions were reasonable and necessary.
“He took a measured response to an unruly, aggressive, and dangerous mob,” Robnett said. “To the extent moving his vehicle forward into an unruly mob of individuals who intentionally positioned themselves in front of his vehicle constitutes intentional use of force, it is justified under these circumstances.”
Huff-McKay, 21 , was taken to a hospital with a partially collapsed lung and pain.
The Prosecuting Attorney’s office said there is sufficient evidence to charge Huff-McKay with unlawful imprisonment, malicious mischief and obstruction.
Videos also contain the sound of a vehicle revving. However, that was determined to be coming from one of the street racers, Robnett said.
Another responding officer, Christopher Bain, was in a different cruiser behind Phan’s. Prior to the Pacific and 9th call, they responded to a different illegal street racing gathering at Portland Ave. and East 11th Street. That crowd had apparently relocated to the Pacific Ave. scene.
Both officers had their emergency lights on and Phan used an air horn in an attempt to disperse the crowd, Robnett said.
“(Officer) Bain saw (Officer) Phan’s vehicle slowly inching forward again through the crowd, but the movement of the car seemed to increase the crowd’s hostility,” Robnett said. “Bain was trying to formulate a rescue plan because he was fearful for the safety of (Officer) Phan and fearful for his own safety.”
Another officer, Rader Cockle, arrived on the scene after hearing Phan on the radio.
He saw Phan drive away and then saw Huff-McKay lying in the street and radioed for medical aid and backup. His vehicle was soon boxed in by civilian vehicles.
“Immediately, several adult males sprinted toward his car and started trying to open the driver’s door and striking the driver-side of his car,” Robnett said. “More of the crowd surrounded his car and he heard people screaming (obscenities) ‘Get him,’ ‘Pull him out,’ ‘Drag him out,’ and ‘Kill that cop.’
The rear window of Cockle’s vehicle was shattered.
“He feared that with the window gone someone in the crowd would be able to access his loaded rifle, and the crowd was still yelling that they were going to kill him,” Robnett said.
Using his public address system, Cockle warned the drivers he would ram them if they did not move. The drivers complied.
The letter delves into the officers’ states of mind during the incident, both their fear of being harmed and the potential for further violence among the crowd.
“As the crowd was trying to open (Cockle’s door), he felt at any moment that his driverside window or door latch would fail and he would be drug out of the vehicle and beat to death as it was live-streamed on social media,” Robnett wrote.
The letter extensively discusses the fear of and reports of Molotov cocktails — bottles with flammable liquid and stuffed with a cloth. No conclusive evidence of the devices were found. It also contains references to police officers being aware of armed spectators at previous sideshows.
The Pierce County Force Investigation Team that investigated the incident and interviewed over 20 witnesses.
The report contradicts some of what the witnesses, four who claimed to be victims of Phan, told investigators. Some who claimed to spectators were actually participants.
Robnett said Phan’s did not intend to hit or harm the “unruly, aggressive and dangerous mob” surrounding his car.
“He moved his car forward only when he thought he saw a bit of a ‘gap’ in the crowd and tried to escape from the attack,” she said.
She concluded Phan was justified in using intentional force.
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