[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The B-Town Blog, nor its staff:]

Notes from a Burien Police Killing

As we remember George Floyd and the outrageous act of his suffocation at the hands of a policeman, we remember other innocent men and women closer to home.

Do you remember the killing of Tommy Le, here in Burien, three years ago this week?

Tommy Le was a 20-year-old Vietnamese-American high schooler, about to graduate on June 14, 2017, when he was killed by a Burien sheriff’s deputy, around midnight, as he was creating some disturbance on the streets, which caused a man in the neighborhood to come out with his gun and shoot it to try to scare Tommy off. (The judge in the case noted the felony committed by this man. Tommy would probably still be alive today, if gun violence had not escalated the situation.)

Tommy was unarmed, though a week after the incident, police claimed he had a pen in his hand. And King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht stated after that a pen can be considered a weapon.

Tommy was shot twice in the back and once in the wrist.

A year ago I attended a hearing on this case, and took notes. The family filed a civil lawsuit seeking $20 million in damages on two counts: that Deputy Molina should not be granted immunity for civil liability for the killing, and that the family should be compensated for damages of “pain and suffering, emotional anxiety and distress or humiliation.”

You be the judge. Here are some notes:

  1. Tommy was shot by Deputy Molina in the back at the angle of being at or near the ground. Witnesses state they saw nothing in his hands. The family’s lawyer suggests a pen was planted on the scene.
  2. Lawyers for the Le family allege that the Use of Force Review Board report, endorsed by Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, is deeply flawed and involves a cover up.
  3. Detective Johnson who accompanied Tommy’s body to the hospital and the morgue, and thus knew he’d been shot in the back, told the family that same night that Tommy was killed because he tried to attack a policeman with a knife – but no knife and no attack. Police one week later said Tommy had a pen, not a knife.
  4. The report changes the statement of Officer Owen standing next to Deputy Molina – earlier he made a sworn statement that he did not feel threatened and did not see a weapon, but the report says he “believed his life was in danger” and “the man had a knife in his clenched fist.”
  5. The report covers up the fact that Tommy was shot in the back – an outrageous omission.
  6. Other statements made by witnesses are excluded from the report.
  7. Even the judge called the report “thin.”
  8. Given all the flaws of the Use of Force Review Board report, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht endorsed the report. The law states the Sheriff has two weeks to order additional investigation, or file the report if he/she feels it is adequate. Johanknecht had the report filed, i.e. gave it her seal of approval.

Officer Molina committed a very tragic mistake in killing Tommy Le. In a democracy, people must pay for their mistakes. The Chief of Burien Police, Theodore Boe, cannot comment or act. Why? Because Burien police are actually not Burien police. They are King County police, contracted to Burien, under King County laws, rules and authority. King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht is responsible for the lack of justice in the case of Tommy Le. She is responsible for the sham investigation and flawed report.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals still has not handed down a decision in this lawsuit.

How can we work for justice for Tommy Le? By standing up for for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. By peacefully protesting until demands are met for reform to the very roots of how we protect and police ourselves.

I’m so grateful to the young people who are leading the marches and demanding specific, systemic changes. (And when I march with them I see that every single one of them is wearing a mask.)

In a democracy, every individual is a governing member. I am responsible for the death of Tommy Le. I have the duty and the privilege to change this system. So do you. No one needs to be a hero, but everyone needs to make their contribution.

For the sake of Tommy Le. For the sake of George Floyd. And so very many others.

– Dr. Irene M. Danysh

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Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.