The King County sheriff told a crowded community center Wednesday night that he is asking the FBI to take over the investigation into why a deputy shot and killed a 20-year-old student holding a pen.
Sheriff John Urquhart told a forum on Tommy Le’s death that he believed Le had been carrying a knife earlier in the night.
“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.
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.
“Tommy was kind and intelligent,” Uyen Le said. “Funny and friendly.”
The community had many questions for the sheriff and other community leaders including King County councilmembers Larry Gossett and Joe McDermott.
One person in the audience asked the sheriff why his department’s information should be allowed to be used in the inquest, a review of the incident by a jury.
When people asked why there were no body cameras on the deputies involved, both the sheriff and McDermott stated their support for body cameras and dash cameras.
“Because of the accountability,” McDermott said. “Because it helps answer and address the questions that we have tonight and also because it helps take the first step toward prevention.”
“We’ve been organizing, we’ve been attending Black Lives Matter rallies and organizing around that, but when it happened in our own community, it was kind of a wake-up call,” said Jefferey Vu, who helped organize the event as part of a Vietnamese community activist group.
“These shootings keep happening in poor neighborhood and communities of color in particular. Why is that happening?” he asked. “What can our elected officials do about it?”
The sheriff pledged to lobby the legislature for the state patrol to take over officer-involved shooting investigations so departments aren’t investigating themselves.
Leaders also spoke in favor of Initiative 940, a ballot measure designed to require more mental health and de-escalation training for officers and to make it easier to hold police accountable for misuse of force in cases of deadly shootings.
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