Police shooting inquests stopped, putting Tommy Le’s hearing on hold


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King County Executive Dow Constantine announced this week that all police shooting inquests will be put on hold while the Review Committee he convened last month considers potential reforms and submits its recommendations.

This means that any inquests into the police shooting of Tommy Le  – a 20-year-old high school senior who was shot and killed in Burien on June 13, 2017 – will be put on hold, along with four others. Le was shot and killed by King County/Burien Police Deputy Cesar Molina, who was responding to a disturbance. Molina apparently believed that Le was armed with a knife, but it turned out that he was holding a pen. He fatally shot the unarmed young man twice in the back. The family filed a wrongful death/civil rights lawsuit against the King County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, Sept. 7.

In a separate decision, the King County District Court Presiding Judge will not be accepting new requests to conduct inquests.

“In the interest of fairness to all those involved, we will pause all inquests as the Review Committee and community partners seek to better understand what works and what doesn’t, and recommend reforms,” Constantine said. “I thank the District Court for its engagement over the decades. The decision by the Presiding Judge gives our Review Committee even more urgency, and greater latitude to suggest something new.”

Here’s more from Constantine’s office:

As members of the King County Inquest Process Review Committee continue to examine the inquest process, Executive Dow Constantine announced that all inquest proceedings will be put on hold.

There are currently five pending inquests, which are fact-finding forums that investigate the circumstances surrounding law enforcement shooting deaths:

  • Isaiah Obet
  • Damarius D. Butts
  • Eugene  D. Nelson
  • Tommy Le
  • Charleena Lyles

Executive Constantine directed that all of these be will temporarily put on hold and will not order any new inquests until the review committee delivers its recommendations.

Last week, King County District Court Presiding Judge Donna Tucker notified the King County Executive’s Office that she made the decision to decline future requests from the Executive to appoint a District Court Judge to preside at inquests.

“In the interest of fairness to all those involved, we will pause all inquests as the Review Committee and community partners seek to better understand what works and what doesn’t, and recommend reforms,” said Executive Constantine. “I thank the District Court for its engagement over the decades. The decision by the Presiding Judge gives our Review Committee even more urgency, and greater latitude to suggest something new.”

“It is important and timely for the County to review this Executive process,” said Judge Tucker.

State law authorizes elected coroners or appointed medical examiners to investigate the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of law enforcement in the performance of their duties. The King County Charter requires an inquest, and King County Code gives the Executive control over the inquest process.

An Executive Order lays out the sequence, which begins when the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office recommends the Executive convene an inquest. The Prosecutor recommends an inquest after every officer-involved shooting death.

Since the 1970s, inquests have been conducted by District Court judges, who have traditionally accepted the delegation of the Executive’s fact-finding duties in his capacity as Coroner. Inquests have been held before a six-member jury who listen to testimony and then answer questions to determine the significant factual issues involved in the case.

Convened on Dec. 12, the King County Inquest Process Review Committee includes:

  • Jeffrey Beaver, Seattle attorney since 1986 practicing commercial and real estate law. He is also a member of the Washington State Supreme Court’s Minority & Justice Commission.
  • Fabienne “Fae” Brooks, retired as Chief of the Criminal Investigations Division with the King County Sheriff’s Office after more than 26 years of service. She is an experienced trainer and consultant nationwide on police/community relationship and coalition building as well as the co-director Law Enforcement Programs for the National Coalition Building Institute, an international non-profit leadership development network.
  • Sandra “Sam” Pailca, Assistant General Counsel at Microsoft who served two three-year terms as the City of Seattle’s Director of the Office of Professional Accountability, a police oversight agency. She is a past board member of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
  • Rick Williams, brother of John T. Williams and member of the Nitinat Band (Eagle Clan).
  • Judge Dean S. Lum, King County Superior Court judge, currently assigned to the criminal department. He currently serves on the ABA Commission on Immigration, the President’s Minority Community Advisory Committee for the University of Washington, and the Board of the Washington State Superior Court Judge’s Association

The five members will select a sixth. The Review Committee is charged with reviewing and reexamining the inquest process to determine what, if any, changes could or should be made to improve the process both for the public and the affected parties.

The Review Committee is expected to issue final recommendations in March.

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