As police began clearing the intersection, some people began surrounding an officer’s vehicle and hitting the vehicle’s body and windows, according to a statement from the Tacoma Police Department. The officer, “fearing for his safety, tried to back up, but was unable to do so because of the crowd,” the statement said.
The officer then accelerated the car forward, and it struck the crowd. According to police, the vehicle struck one person and “may have impacted others.”
Videos circulating on social media appear to show a police car, with lights and sirens on, plowing into numerous people in the crowd. Several people appear to hit the ground as the vehicle moves forward. It is not immediately clear how many people were affected or where the vehicle hit them.
“The officer stopped at a point of safety and called for medical aid,” the statement said.
The officer, a 58-year-old who has been a member of the Tacoma Police Department for nearly 30 years, was placed on paid administrative leave immediately following the incident on Saturday, according to a department news release.
According to the police statement, one person was taken to a hospital. At a news conference Saturday night, Puyallup police Capt. Dan Pashon told reporters that two people had been taken to the hospital but that one was released soon after.
Pashon told The Washington Post that the incident officers were responding to involved a group that was “driving in a reckless manner and had taken over an intersection in downtown Tacoma.”
Such groups, he said, are commonly associated with street racing, which he said has increasingly been a problem for local authorities.
On Friday, the Puyallup Police Department tweeted that it had recently “encountered several incidents of illegal street racing” and had put up signs in some areas declaring them a “No Racing Zone.”
Puyallup is about 10 miles southeast of Tacoma.
The Tacoma Police Department said the incident is being turned over to the Pierce County Force Investigation Team to conduct an independent investigation. Pashon said the team will gather details about the incident. He said the team has been interviewing witnesses and will ask the public to contact the department to share any videos of it.
The Pierce County Force Investigation Team is called on when “use of deadly force occurs,” Pashon said, and the investigating team is made up of officers from agencies in the county not involved in the incident. The incident commander for Saturday was from the Puyallup Police Department.
Pashon, who identified the Tacoma officer involved as a “senior” officer, said the team will not make any determinations about whether the officer is disciplined.
“We provide the facts. Those facts go to the prosecutor. They go to the city of Tacoma. The Tacoma Police Department will make those decisions,” he said during the news conference.
Interim Tacoma police chief Mike Ake said in a statement that he was concerned that the department “is experiencing another use of deadly force incident.”
“I send my thoughts to anyone who was injured in tonight’s event, and am committed to our Department’s full cooperation in the independent investigation and to assess the actions of the department’s response during the incident.”