Inquest opened into deputy-shooting of 20-year-old holding pen

by: KIRO 7 News Staff Updated:

BURIEN, Wash. - The King County executive has ordered an inquest into the fatal deputy-involved shooting that killed a 20-year-old student in Burien holding a pen. 

About the shooting 

Tommy Le, 20, was shot by a deputy who responded after neighbors called 911 to report Le had a knife. The Sheriff's Office said he refused to drop the knife so the deputy shot him. It was later revealed Le did not have a knife, but an ink pen.

In addition, the medical examiner's report  showed that Le was shot in hand once and twice in the back. Le's family said that proves he was not a threat to officers.

Sheriff John Urquhart talked at a community-organized forum over the summer about  Le’s death on June 13.

“We have independent witnesses that said Tommy had a knife,” he said. 

“However, Tommy did not have a knife when he was shot. We believe he went back to his house, which was 10 houses away from where the knife incident occurred and from where he was shot, we believe he went back to his house, left the knife and came back with a pen in his hand. Both officers have told us they believed he had a knife in his hand when he was shot.” 

Urquhart also revealed that although both officers deployed their Tasers before one of them, Deputy Cesar Molina, fired a gun, only one Taser barb was found on Le’s body. Each taser fires two barbs that must attach to the body to complete the circuit. Urquhart said it was unclear if the other barb simply fell off or missed, but said it was only clear that the tasers did not work and the deputy felt he needed to fire.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office recommended the inquest after reviewing an internal investigation.

What exactly are inquests? 

Inquests are fact-finding hearings conducted before a six-member jury. Inquests are convened to determine the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of any law enforcement agency within King County while performing his or her duty.

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Family talks about Le’s death 

Le’s father, Hoai Le, who also goes by Sunny, said his son’s death was like losing a piece of his heart.

“There is no pain like losing my son,” he said through a Vietnamese translator.

Le’s mother, Dieu Ho, said her "baby" was kind.

“He’s never got into a fight before,” she said through a translator. “His teachers all say he’s good.”
 
His aunts shared their anguish over Le’s death, which occurred hours before he was to graduate from high school. According to The Seattle Times, Le was about to graduate from Career Link’s alternative high-school. 

“Tommy was kind and intelligent,” Uyen Le said. “Funny and friendly.”

Le's family filed a wrongful death claim against the King County Sheriff's Office in September. 

What about body cameras? 

There were no body cameras on the deputies involved, but Sheriff Urquhart wishes his deputies had been wearing them.

“The community would be so much more satisfied if there was body camera video about exactly what happened, as would we,” he said.

“I think my officers will behave better with a body camera. I think the public will behave better when they’re on camera. And if nothing else, I think it will level the playing field because the tie always goes to the police officer. The public should want these” body cameras,” Urquhart said.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said he, too, would like to see county deputies wearing body cameras as soon as possible -- to protect the public and police.

However, Constantine acknowledges barriers that need to be addressed first.

“We need to work with the Legislature on both funding and on the way in which we can collect and store all this information within the meaning of the public disclosure laws,” Constantine told KIRO 7.

“And we need to work with our police officers to make sure we can implement this in quick action.”

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