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Pierce County prosecutor decides not to charge Tacoma officer who drove through crowd

Police Car Hits Pedestrians
Ted S. Warren/AP
Tacoma Police and other law enforcement vehicles are shown near the site of a car crash Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in downtown Tacoma, Wash. Two people were injured when a police car plowed through a crowd of people Saturday night who were watching a downtown street race. More than a year later, the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney decided against charging officers. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A Tacoma police officer will not face criminal charges for driving through a crowd in January last year.

Officer Khanh Phan was one of several officers responding to an illegal gathering on Jan. 23, 2021. More than 100 people crowded the intersection of 9th Street and Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma watching drivers do stunts in their cars.

After a group surrounded his vehicle, Phan says he feared for his life and drove through it to get away. Two people were injured.

In a 12-page letter sent to Tacoma's police chief Thursday, Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett said Phan and the other officers on scene were “unlawfully restrained and attacked.” Robnett called the crowd a “violent mob,” citing audio and video of people rocking Phan's vehicle, beating on the windows and threatening the officer.

"He took a measured response to an unruly, aggressive, and dangerous mob," the letter states.

Robnett also wrote that officers, including Phan, attempted to de-escalate the situation, using an air horn to try and disperse the crowd. She said Phan had no other reasonable alternative for getting away and his actions were necessary to protect himself.

"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," she wrote.

The News Tribune reports that one of the people apparently run over is facing charges.

The independent investigation was handled by the Pierce County Force Investigation Team. It relied on a large amount of audio and video recorded that night. The FBI helped process the evidence by compiling and synchronizing the many hours of footage, the letter stated.

The full letter is below.

Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.
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