Leaders of a dozen civil rights and community groups have filed a complaint disputing the King County Sheriff’s Office’s findings that a deputy was “justified and within department policy” when he fatally shot Tommy Le during a disturbance in Burien last year.
Leaders of a dozen civil-rights and community groups this week filed a complaint challenging a King County sheriff’s panel’s findings that a deputy was “justified and within department policy” when he fatally shot Tommy Le, who was holding a pen mistaken for a knife during a disturbance in Burien last year.
“The effort to control the narrative to defend the Deputies and blame Tommy Le for his own death continues,” the complaint says. “Nowhere in the report is it indicated that Tommy Le died from bullets to the back.”
The complaint, sent Thursday to Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, asks the citizen-led Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) to conduct “a review and analysis of the processes, policies and conclusions referenced” in the department’s Use-of-Force Review Board’s Aug. 22 report.
A spokesman for Johanknecht said in an email Friday the sheriff received the complaint Thursday evening and is reviewing it.
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“We won’t be making any further comments at this time because it’s important to the Sheriff that she respond directly to the authors of the letter first, before sharing that information with the media,” Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ryan Abbott said.
OLEO director Deborah Jacobs said in a separate statement Friday her office would “do everything within our authority to review this shooting and address the public’s questions and concerns.”
The complaint came a day after King County Executive Dow Constantine announced sweeping changes to the county’s inquest process that could affect Le’s pending inquest, which has been postponed for months amid the overhaul process.
Such inquests are separate examinations from internal department reviews, but can draw upon internal findings and other evidence when determining the factual circumstances surrounding an officer’s use of deadly force.
Diane Narasaki, one of the complaint’s co-signers and director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, said Friday the complaint’s timing is coincidental to Constantine’s announcement.
“This had been in the works for some time,” she said. “It was ready, and we just thought it was a good time to release it.”
Others who co-signed the complaint include Andrè Taylor, of Not This Time!; the Rev. Harriett Walden, of Mothers for Police Accountability; and Lisa Daugaard of the Public Defender Association.
Le’s death, which came hours before the Vietnamese-American student was set to graduate from an alternative high school, has drawn outrage from his family and members of South King County’s Asian-American community.
Le, 20, encountered deputies about midnight on June 14, 2017, after they responded to several 911 calls about a man acting bizarrely in the 13600 block of Third Avenue South in Burien. One homeowner told dispatchers he had fired his handgun into the ground, hoping to scare off the man later identified as Le.
When Le continued to approach, the homeowner fled back inside his house. Le, who was barefoot and wearing shorts and a T-shirt, then reportedly pounded on the door and stabbed it, screaming he was “the creator,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The responding deputies, Molina and Master Police Officer Tanner Owens, fired their Tasers at Le, but it’s unclear whether they struck him. When they said Le moved toward them, Molina shot him three times. Le was found to be holding a pen at the time. He died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Toxicology tests found Le had traces of the hallucinogen LSD in his system at the time of his death.
The sheriff’s review board later concluded Molina “reasonably believed that (Le) was armed with a deadly weapon and that he had already attacked someone with a knife.”
“The man’s actions led Molina to believe that if not stopped, the man posed a serious threat of harm to Molina,” as well as Owens and nearby residents, the report said.
The findings by the panel of six voting members — including Undersheriff Scott Somers; legal adviser Erin Overbey; and Steve Eggert, president of the King County Police Officers Guild — quickly drew criticism from lawyers representing Le’s family in a civil-rights lawsuit.
This week’s complaint noted that shortly after the shooting, the Sheriff’s Office falsely announced Le was shot while charging deputies with a knife.
“Only after further inquiry by reporters did it transpire that Tommy Le was unarmed and shot in the back while holding a pen, not a knife,” it says.
The complaint also takes issue with the department’s public statements that even if deputies had known Le had a pen, the outcome may have been the same because a pen can be wielded as a weapon.
“We do not find this argument to be one worthy of exonerating those responsible for Tommy’s death,” the complaint states.
The sheriff’s review board, which is required to convene after any deputy-involved shooting, typically conducts such examinations following an inquest. In Le’s case, the department opted to convene the panel before Le’s postponed inquest occurred “in the best interest of the community,” Liz Rocca, the sheriff’s chief of staff, has said.