Santa Rosa Police open investigation after viral video alleges mask shaming by officer over loudspeaker
The Santa Rosa Police Department has opened an investigation into a claim that one of its officers used his patrol car loudspeaker to shame residents for wearing masks at a bustling Santa Rosa Avenue shopping complex Monday.
The allegation was first leveled in a TikTok video that the author says drew threats against her life after the post went viral.
“We take complaints by the community very seriously,” SRPD Professional Standards Sgt. Dan Hackett said. “That’s what we’re doing with this complaint. If it was found to be true, the officer responsible would have to be held accountable.”
As of Wednesday, the Santa Rosa Police Department had not identified an involved officer. Hackett said he didn’t know if there is existing body camera footage or audio of the incident.
The account began Monday on TikTok, the short-form video sharing app, where a young woman using the name Shan posted a selfie video from her car, describing a scene she had just seen unfold at Santa Rosa Marketplace, the busy commercial site anchored by Target and Costco.
Shan, 21, spoke to The Press Democrat on Tuesday but asked that only her first name be used. She said she fears retaliation.
“I hear someone over the PA system say, ‘Take off your masks, don’t be slaves. Don’t be slaves, take off your masks,’” Shan said in an interview, recounting the event. “I popped my head out the door. … The police car I had seen was driving by, and everyone was kind of watching it happen.”
The video Shan posted moments later did not show the encounter, but recorded her immediate reaction to it. That video is no longer accessible, she said, because she has since deleted her account after receiving death threats related to her post.
“A few people found my Instagram, which I don’t publish,” Shan explained. “A few found my Facebook, saying they hope I get beaten to death by a police officer. They were threatening me and my family, saying, ‘I hope you die.’”
Before taking down her account Tuesday, Shan said, the video had been viewed about 60,000 times. She took the trouble to post it, she said, because she believed she had witnessed an example of law enforcement officers abusing their position of power.
“It is not up to the police or even the government to tell people to take off their masks,” Shan said. “Yes, it is now an option for those who are vaccinated, but it is not required. Citizens should not be harassed by authorities for wanting to protect themselves from potential danger.”
Shan was out running errands Monday, she said, when she parked in the Santa Rosa Marketplace lot. On her way in to grab lunch at Sonoma Valley Bagel, she noticed a police officer walking through the lot in the opposite direction. He was white, perhaps 6 feet tall in his 30s or 40s, with brown or dirty blond hair.
“Ironically, he was wearing a mask, so I couldn’t see his face,” Shan said.
She was in line to order at the bagel shop at about 1:30 p.m., she said, when she heard the call to unmask coming over a bullhorn outside. As Shan opened the door to look at the passing patrol car, several people next door at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt were doing the same.
“If you’re the cop with the SRPD who was over by Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt using your loudspeaker to tell people to take off their masks because they were acting like slaves, I spoke with your office and they would like to speak with you,” Shan said in the original video. “So I would head back if I were you.”
Shan said she was unaccompanied at the time of the incident. No one working at Sonoma Valley Bagel or Menchie’s on Wednesday, or at the bagel shop’s other neighbor, Chipotle Mexican Grill, recalled hearing the derogatory words coming through a speaker Monday afternoon.
Shan immediately called SRPD after the incident and left her name, she said. On Tuesday, she spoke with Hackett, who took her statement over the phone.
“He was very receptive,” she said. “He told me, ‘I take this stuff very seriously.’ He told me he would follow up and call back if they need more information, and that it was important to him to figure it out.”
Mocking or taunting mask-wearers while in uniform would likely fall under Section 105.5.9 of the Santa Rosa PD’s policy manual, a portion of the policy that addresses officer conduct, Hackett said.
Items listed within that section include “discourteous, disrespectful or discriminatory treatment of any member of the public” and “any other on or off-duty conduct which any employee knows or reasonably should know is unbecoming a member of this department, is contrary to good order, efficiency or morale, or tends to reflect unfavorably upon this department or its employees.”
“If this allegation is true, it clearly doesn’t meet the expectations Santa Rosa Police Department has toward its police officers,” Hackett said.
Many of the responses to Shan’s TikTok were complimentary of her, or critical of the police. But right from the start, some users questioned her honesty. And at some point, the messages became more toxic and personal. The backlash took its toll on Shan, who has struggled with anxiety, she said.
When people started finding their way to her accounts on other social media platforms, it was too much. She deleted her TikTok account. It disappointed her to do so, she said, because she has always enjoyed TikTok as a means of self-expression.
“My experience before this is that people have been really supportive,” Shan said. “It’s a great community. It’s just that right now, we’re in a time where talking about things related to law enforcement is a very touchy subject. And COVID is a touchy subject, too. So I guess it’s inevitable it would turn out like this.”
Anyone who witnessed this event or has information about it is encouraged to call Sgt. Dan Hackett at 707-543-4132.
You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.