By Jack Mayne The shooting death last year of Tommy Le â€“ a 20-year-old Vietnamese man who was wielding a pen and not a knife â€“ was ruled to have been justified and within King County Sheriffâ€™s office policy, a review board has ruled. The shooting death in Burien of Le on June 14 last year by a King County deputy sheriff was justified according to the Use of Force Review Board, said a report released Wednesday (Aug. 22). Lawsuit filed The family of Tommy Le, 20, told Seattle Times reporter Lewis Kamb last January that their son wanted to be a firefighter. The family has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against King County, contending Leâ€™s death was partly the result of â€œracially selective police practices,â€ and that the Sheriffâ€™s Office lied in official statements saying Le had a knife and lunged at deputies, the Times reported in January. At the filing, attorney Jeff Campiche told the Times that the Sheriffâ€™s Office â€œabsolutely knewâ€ Le had no knife within seconds after the June 13 shooting, nonetheless deputies told the public and family members otherwise. Campiche told reporter Kamb that deputies also later intentionally concealed from their police reports about the incident that two of the three bullets that struck Le hit him in the back, he said. â€œItâ€™s hard to be shot in the back if youâ€™re lunging at the police officer that shot you,â€ Campiche said. Mental impairment The lawsuit noted Le was â€œsuffering from some type of mental impairment or confusionâ€ and needed help. Campiche also acknowledged Le had a trace amount of LSD in his system, but said that has â€œno legal consequence on the unlawfulness of the shooting of Tommy Le.â€ The lawyer also said itâ€™s still uncertain whether a pen found about 20 feet from Leâ€™s body after the shooting was in fact in Leâ€™s possession, noting that itâ€™s of the type commonly used by government offices. He added that the Sheriffâ€™s Office â€œlooked very hard for a knifeâ€ but couldnâ€™t find one. The lawsuit further contends that Deputy Cesar Molinaâ€™s fatal shooting of Le was partly the product of â€œracially selective police practicesâ€ caused by a lack of proper training, supervision and policies within the Sheriffâ€™s Office. The alleged use of excessive use of deadly force and racial factors both violated Leâ€™s constitutional rights, the suit claims. The Review Boardâ€™s memo said that when deputies first encountered Le, Deputy Cesar Molina and Master Police Officer Tanner Owens first employed verbal de-escalation techniques consistent with their training. Less than lethal options â€œWhen verbal commands to stop and drop the object in his hand did not work, the deputies tried to create distance and space between themselves and Mr. Le,â€ the review board wrote. â€œBoth the deputies chose to deploy the less lethal option of their Tasers. â€œAt one point, Mr. Le moved within five feet of Master Police Officer Owens, holding what was believed to be a knife in a clenched fist, and moving forward rapidly.â€ Because â€œless-lethal tactics (Taser) did not stop Mr. Le from continuing to charge toward the deputies, and civilian bystanders positioned behind them,” the Board concluded that Molina and Owens acted within policy when they drew their service weapons and Molina fired. The review board â€œconcluded Molina feared Le would harm him, Owens or the people in the yard nearby, with the object he held in his hand.â€ Stabbing fear, gunshot The review board report said â€œthe incident began when several residents came in contact with Le that night. They describe being fearful he may stab them.â€ Someone called 911. The review panel report said â€œevidence gathered shows Le advanced on a second resident, who was so fearful he would be stabbed he fired a shot from his personal handgun then â€œretreated inside his home, shut the door, and then heard what he believed was Mr. Le stabbing or striking the door.â€ The review panel report included a photograph of the damage to the door but analysis of the marks is â€œstill pendingâ€ at the State Crime Lab. The Sheriffâ€™s review report noted it included â€œphotographs of knives taken, pursuant to a search warrant, from a nearby residence where Mr. Le was renting a room.â€ Two witnesses â€œindependently chose a butterfly knife â€¦ resembling what they believe they saw in Leâ€™s hand when the incident began several minutes before deputies arrived on scene.â€ Pen, not knife After the shooting the review report says â€œdeputies discovered that Mr. Le was armed with a pen at the time of the confrontation with KCSO Deputies.â€ The review panel report says â€œit is not clear that events would have evolved differently even if deputies realized that Le held a pen. â€œA pen can be used as an improvised weapon,â€ said the review report. â€œAimed at vulnerable parts of the body, like the face or throat, it can cause serious bodily injury if used to stab someone. In this case, Le was moving quickly toward the deputies with the object held in a clenched fist and did not acknowledge verbal commands to drop what he was holding, leading Deputy Molina to fear for his safety and the safety of others.â€ The review panel report says â€œOur hearts continue to go out to the Le family. They have lost a cherished son, brother, nephew and friend and we continue to be mindful of their loss and their grief.â€ Report delayed A change in the inquest process caused the report to be delayed, while â€œwe waited for the county executiveâ€™s office to revise and implement a new inquest process. Because that process is still pending and it is not clear when a new process will be implemented,â€ the sheriffâ€™s department believed it was â€œin the best interest of the community and the office to proceed without further delay and held its Use of Force Review Board on June 20, 2018.â€ Relevant files The Sheriff’s Office release numerous files, which can be accessed and downloaded below:
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