The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)
Robert Hollingsworth knew what he was doing when he filmed himself in uniform signing off from his last shift as a Tacoma police officer.
The video, which referred to Tacoma leaders as “spineless and tyrannical” and included a conservative slogan criticizing President Joe Biden, went viral.
Hollingsworth had already resigned from the department, but police officials placed him on administrative leave because the video violated city policy. Officers are not allowed to use city uniforms or vehicles in personal communications or social media without permission from the chief.
His last day was March 13.
Now, the 33-year-old has left his career in law enforcement, is joining a local action committee supporting veteran candidates and is taking his message on the road with public speaking events.
“My message moving forward is going to be about accountability and effective leadership in politicians,” Hollingsworth told The News Tribune.
He came to work for Tacoma in April 2019 from the Henderson Police Department in Nevada. He joined Tacoma’s SWAT team in September 2021, fulfilling what he described as a childhood dream, but resigned from the team in January before giving notice Feb. 23 that he intended to leave the department.
During his time here, Hollingsworth earned a commendation for his professionalism helping a woman whose stolen car had been recovered.
He had one complaint filed by a woman who “believed he spoke to her in a rude manner, did not like his attitude and described him as being a ‘little punk,'” according to his personnel file. The woman offered no specifics on his behavior to an internal affairs officer and the complaint was not sustained.
Hollingsworth was found to have violated one department policy in June 2021 when he failed to turn on his body camera when responding to a commercial burglary at the Pierce County Auditor’s building. He told superiors he “probably forgot to turn it on” and was given a verbal warning, as well as a “supervisor coaching” on the policy and its importance, records say.
He used force once while a Tacoma police officer. In August 2020, he used a Taser on a man holding a knife after he advanced toward Hollingsworth and forced the officer to walk backwards up a set of basement stairs. The force was later found to be within department policy.
Changes in Washington state policing, the spike in violent crime and Hollingsworth’s views on administrators prompted him to give notice in February.
In an email to the Office of the Chief, Hollingsworth thanked the department for helping him earn a Master’s degree and lamented that he would not be finishing out his career in Tacoma.
“Unfortunately, policies of state lawmakers, the actions of city leaders, failures of police administrators, and ever increasingly violent working conditions, has made the decision to leave the department a very easy one for myself and family,” he wrote.
Violent crime has risen significantly in Tacoma and across the country in recent years. The city has seen a spike in homicides since 2020 and this year is on track to tie or beat the previous years’ numbers. There were 32 homicides both in 2020 and 2021, which is the highest since there were 33 in 1994.
“Police were always at a disadvantage but now I’ve been shot at, guns pointed at me — how am I supposed to ensure I come home to my family and justify going to work in this environment?” Hollingsworth said. “The difference between policing in Las Vegas and Tacoma is night and day. It doesn’t mean cops are better anywhere else, it just means they’re supported and able to do their job supported by the community and leadership.”
That, he says, is something Tacoma lacks.
House Bill 1310, which went into effect last year, changed when and how law enforcement officers can use force and prioritizes de-escalation. Many agencies expressed confusion about how to interpret the new law and asked the Attorney General’s Office for input, which took months.
Hollingsworth expressed frustration that Tacoma police did not change policies or procedures to adhere to the new law, and did not offer guidance to officers.
More than that, he believes police administrators should speak up to defend and preserve the law enforcement field.
“The leadership needs to have a backbone in order to back their officers and stand up to people who don’t have any idea what their profession is,” Hollingsworth said.
The right is sharing a video of a Tacoma police officer telling police in other cities to disobey orders against the freedom convoy and warned that if they don’t ,“conservatives will turn on you, and they absolutely should.”— PatriotTakes 🇺🇸 (@patriottakes) March 5, 2022
The officer ended his video with “Let’s go Brandon.” pic.twitter.com/GIf2pLoKwA
Those feelings led to his resignation and the video.
It was taken at the end of his last shift, while he was wearing his department uniform and sitting in a patrol car. He said that was deliberate so that his message would stand out from the everyday man opining in online videos. Hollingsworth wrote out what he wanted to say beforehand but ended up winging it because the written version was too long.
“This message is to the police in DC and other cities that have spineless and tyrannical leaders such as mine,” Hollingsworth says. “Stop allowing the left and the media to use our profession for political gain.”
He urged fellow police not to hinder a political protest that was planned in Olympia.
“If you violate people’s constitutional rights due to the orders of some liberal tyrant, conservatives will turn on you, and they absolutely should for you doing so,” Hollingsworth said.
He signed off with the phrase, “Let’s go, Brandon,” a slogan recently popularized by critics of President Joe Biden.
Hollingsworth posted it to his personal Instagram account. It was then picked up by Patriot Takes, an anonymously-run account that focuses on purported right-wing activity, and others.
Hollingsworth said he has conservative political views but does not consider himself to be a right-wing conservative. He said some people may have misinterpreted his video, in which he intended to urge law enforcement officers not to violate people’s constitutional rights when it comes to protests and freedom of speech.
“It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you’re on, we don’t violate people’s rights,” he said.
He pointed to differences in how his in-uniform social media post was treated by the department in comparison to other Tacoma officers.
In 2020, at least three Tacoma police officers were investigated for social media posts in uniform. One mocked the “defund police” movement in a TikTok, and two discussed their views on protests and the “thin blue line flag.” None were placed on administrative leave, as Hollingsworth was.
Disciplinary records for the investigations into the other three officers’ use of social media were not able to be immediately obtained.
Hollingsworth stands by his message and is glad to see his video getting traction.
“I knew I’d take flak but these things need to be said,” he told The News Tribune.
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