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Investigation into Tacoma police vehicle incident nearing end, spokesman says

Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
Tacoma Police and other law enforcement officers stand in an intersection near the site where a Tacoma police officer drove through a crowd of people on Saturday night.

Nearly six months have passed since Tacoma police officer Khanh Phan drove his patrol vehicle through a crowd of people in a downtown intersection.

After delays, investigators are close to finishing the case and presenting it to the Pierce County prosecutor, who will determine whether Phan will face charges, said a spokesman for the team probing the incident.

Puyallup Police Capt. Ryan Portmann said investigators with the interagency Pierce County Force Investigation Team hope to present their findings within the next couple of weeks. After briefing the prosecutor, they'll give presentations to Tacoma police officials and citizen oversight representatives, he said.

The team investigating this case is made up of law enforcement officers from parts of Pierce County outside Tacoma, with a lead detective from Puyallup Police. 

Delays in this case have mainly been due to investigators trying to obtain as much video of the incident as they could and then sending it to the FBI to enhance and synchronize the footage, Portmann said.

Investigators got some footage from witnesses who gave it willingly, and other footage from social media, elsewhere online or search warrants, Portmann said.

Investigators turned to the FBI to "refine" the videos "to where the detectives would be able to look through it and parse it out a little bit better," he said.

It also took a while for investigators to obtain search warrants and medical records, Portmann said.

"With any major investigation, whether it be an officer-involved incident where it's forced that's used or a homicide, there's always lots of time that goes into those behind the scenes that folks just don't realize," Portmann said. "And so I appreciate folks' patience."

On the night of Jan. 23, Phan responded to reports of people gathering for an event in which people perform stunts in cars and blocking a downtown intersection. He said he felt threatened when members of the crowd gathered around his vehicle.

Videos captured Phan driving the vehicle forward, plowing into pedestrians as people scream and one person passes under the vehicle's tires. Phan then stopped and called for medical aid.

Phan was 58 at the time of the incident, with nearly 30 years as a Tacoma Police officer. He was placed on administrative leave immediately after the incident.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.