Independent review slams King County Sheriff’s Office handling of Tommy Le killing

VIDEO: King County Sheriff defends herself from scathing report on Tommy Le shooting

KING COUNTY, Wash. — On Wednesday, a third-party investigator presented his report on the King County Sheriff’s Office handling of the Tommy Le Investigation. Michael Gennaco, of OIR Group based in California, summarized the scathing report to the King County Council’s Law and Justice Committee. King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht defended her department and told the council much of the information in the report was based on outdated policies.

The Le family held a news conference with community leaders, thankful the truth is finally out. But they are frustrated it took more than three years.

Le, 20, was shot and killed by a King County sheriff’s deputy in June 2017. Deputies responded after neighbors reported he was threatening them with a pointed object. After trying to use a Taser on Le twice, Le was shot three times — two of those shots hit him in the back, the other in the hand. When he was on the ground, they saw he had been holding a pen.

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The independent investigation was commissioned by the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight.

The report states King County failed to address critical elements of the investigation, such as how it was likely Le was running away at the time he was shot, and, thus, how could he be charging at the deputies if he was shot in the back?

For years, Le’s family has been trying to hold the King County Sheriff’s Office accountable. Now, they are thankful the truth is being revealed.

“The first thing that report shows, unquestionably, that Tommy was unarmed, that he never had a weapon. He was shot in the back when he was going away, not attacking deputies as the King County sheriff maintained,” said Jeff Campiche, the attorney for Tommy Le’s family. “The public is entitled to the truth whenever a police officer kills a civilian, and they concealed it. They misstated the facts, and they actually made up evidence. And it’s wrong, and there must be an accounting for that.”

The report suggests major changes to how King County investigates deadly shootings, including requiring a deputy who uses deadly force to give timely video interviews instead of being allowed to submit a written report days later. There are 29 recommendations for the King County Sheriff’s Office.

The report will be presented to the King County Council’s Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday. The Le family and sheriff will speak during the meeting held via Zoom.

The case was not reviewed by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

“The Tommy Le case wasn’t referred into our office with a certification for determination for probable cause (and other required elements) for a criminal review. The police investigation was forwarded to us in Oct. 2017 and we referred it to the Executive’s Office for an inquest, which is still pending. That was done to help inform the final decision,” said Casey McNerthney, director of communications at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The Le family is suing the King County Sheriff’s Office. And after months of delays, the case will be heard in a federal court.

The King County Sheriff’s Office released this statement Tuesday night:

“The King County Sheriff’s Office has reviewed the recent report written by an outside third party hired by The Office of Law Enforcement Oversight. This report was intended to examine the circumstances surrounding the investigation of the officer-involved shooting of Tommy Le. We agree that the Sheriff’s Office must have strong systems in place to investigate and evaluate the actions of our members and to initiate clear accountability measures when their actions fall short and make important course corrections based on lessons learned from prior events.

“Although this tragic incident took place under the watch of a former sheriff in 2017, Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht has made a number of improvements in policy and process since taking office in 2018. Many of those changes were already in place well before this report was written, and even before the OLEO report on the officer-involved shooting of Mi’Chance Dunlap Gittens, presented to Council earlier this year. All of these policy changes and improvements were known to OLEO, but not accurately reflected in either report.

“Sheriff Johanknecht fully understands how certain decisions about the release, or omission, of information to the media just after the shooting in 2017 undermined public trust. This administration cannot explain nor answer why those decisions were made by the previous sheriff, we can and do apologize for our own lapses in public information sharing.

“The Force Review Board report issued in 2018 could have contained more complete information about what the review board considered and more detailed facts about the incident. We see and acknowledge how this might be perceived by the family and public.”