Sheriff’s office is slammed over ‘serious, problematic gaps’ in investigation into death of student

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An independent report into the police shooting of a Washington student killed while holding a pen mistaken for a knife has slammed ‘serious, problematic gaps’ in the sheriff’s investigation into the case. 

Tommy Le, 20, was just hours away from his high school graduation from Career Link, an alternative high school program at South Seattle College, the night he was killed in June 2017. 

Three deputies from the King County sheriff’s office had responded to calls of a man, later identified as Le, threatening people with ‘a knife or some sort of sharp object.’ Le was shot three times, twice in the back, by Deputy Cesar Molina. An internal investigation into the shooting found it was justified. 

Now an independent report commissioned by the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight has identified a number of issues with that probe. The report has listed 29 recommendations for the sheriff’s office after the ‘sharp object’ was found to be a pen.

Tommy Le was hours away from his graduation the night he died in June 2017

Tommy Le was hours away from his graduation the night he died in June 2017

An independent report into the police shooting of a Washington student killed while holding a pen, pictured, mistaken for a knife has slammed 'serious, problematic gaps' in the sheriff's investigation into the case

An independent report into the police shooting of a Washington student killed while holding a pen, pictured, mistaken for a knife has slammed ‘serious, problematic gaps’ in the sheriff’s investigation into the case

It pointed to the fact officers were given two days to give a written statement which is against best practice. They were not interviewed until five weeks later and were not said to have been probed on why Le was shot in the back. 

The report says: ‘Most significantly, the Review Board was not presented with a clear picture of what Le was doing and where he was moving in relation to the on-scene deputies and civilians when the shooting occurred.’

They add it suggests ‘that the threat level to the shooter deputy was diminishing at the time he fired – even if the deputy believed Le possessed a knife’. 

Tommy’s aunt Xuyen Le said: ‘We finally have an independent investigation into more of the truth of what happened.’ 

Jeff Campiche, the attorney for Tommy Le’s family, told Kiro7: ‘The first thing that report shows, unquestionably, that Tommy was unarmed, that he never had a weapon. He was shot in the back when he was going away, not attacking deputies as the King County Sheriff maintained.

‘The report states what the family has known from the beginning: Their son wasn’t lunging at Deputy Molina with a knife in his hand when he was shot. He was running away from Molina, and his hands were empty, as witnesses clearly saw. 

‘The public is entitled to the truth whenever a police officer kills a civillian and they concealed it. They mis-stated the facts and they actually made up evidence and it’s wrong and there must be an accounting for that.’ 

He added: ‘No more gobbledygook. Just Tommy Le shouldn’t have been shot in the back.’ 

Le was shot three times, twice in the back, by Deputy Cesar Molina

Le was shot three times, twice in the back, by Deputy Cesar Molina

At the time of the event, the Sheriff's office said the homeowner ran inside his house and Le began stabbing his door with the 'sharp object'. Le was found with this pen

At the time of the event, the Sheriff’s office said the homeowner ran inside his house and Le began stabbing his door with the ‘sharp object’. Le was found with this pen

The King County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement: ‘The King County Sheriff’s Office has reviewed the recent report written by an outside third party hired by The Office of Law Enforcement Oversight.

‘Although this tragic incident took place under the watch of a former sheriff in 2017, Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht has made a number of improvements in policy and process since taking office in 2018. 

‘Sheriff Johanknecht fully understands how certain decisions about the release, or omission, of information to the media just after the shooting in 2017 undermined public trust. This administration cannot explain nor answer why those decisions were made by the previous sheriff, we can and do apologize for our own lapses in public information sharing.  

At the time of the event, the sheriff’s office said the homeowner ran inside his house and Le began stabbing his door with the ‘sharp object’, yelling that he was ‘The Creator’.

Officers added that Le did not comply with deputy orders, did not drop the object, and that tasers ‘were not effective.’

Le’s family have filed a $10 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the county and sheriff’s Deputy Cesar Molina.        

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