SEATTLE - Family members of Tommy Le heard the Director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight discuss why it’s so important for the King County Sheriff’s Office to increase transparency and quickly correct what a recent study called “inaccuracies” after the death of Le.
“If we’re trying to build trust between community and the public, it’s better if any misinformation that comes from a police agency, like the Sheriff’s Office, be corrected by that same agency,” Deborah Jacobs told the King County Council’s Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday.
The 20-year old Le was shot three times last June by King County Sheriff’s Deputy Caesar Molina.
Initially, the Sheriff’s Office told reporters that Le was holding a knife when he was killed, and that deputies had acted in self-defense.
However, KIRO 7 obtained evidence photos that show the ink pen on the ground.
There is no evidence Le ever had a knife.
After the council meeting, Le’s aunt, Uyen Le, said “being fed that information really added to the grief that we were going through with the loss of Tommy, and now the misinformation.”
According to a just-released report requested by Jacobs and authored by the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, the Sheriff’s Office “did not correct any of the inaccurate reports” that said “Le yielded a knife.”
More than a week after Le was shot, the Sheriff’s Office issued a second statement “clarifying that only a pen had been found in Le’s possession.” The statement came after media had already reported it, according to the Brechner Center.
The report recommended the Sheriff’s Office now “update” information as soon as possible, “acknowledging the initial misinformation and, where possible, explaining the reason for the misinformation.”
Le family attorney Jeff Campiche told KIRO 7 multiple employees with the Sheriff’s Office were untruthful to the media “willfully.”
“They wanted to make themselves look better because they shot an unarmed, 120-pound high school student in the back,” he said.
Since Le’s shooting, a new Sheriff --- Mitzi Johanknecht – has been elected.
Today, her office released a statement promising “transparent and truthful communication” with the public and the media.
"Sheriff Johanknecht and her executive team reviewed the Brechner Center Report in February 2018. At that time, we met with OLEO Director Jacobs regarding her concerns about how the previous administration handled public communication in the aftermath of an officer involved shooting in June 2017.
"We told Ms. Jacobs then, and want to assure the public now, that transparent and truthful communication is one of the Sheriff’s top priorities. Since taking office, our administration has proactively released information, and accompanying documentation, quickly on a variety of issues. That information has been transmitted through public disclosure requests, press releases, on camera interviews and in social media posts so the information is easily obtained by anyone wishing to seek it.
"Sheriff Johanknect is committed to continuing to have a transparent and open relationship with both the media and the public."
In response, Deborah Jacobs issued the following statement:
"The Office of Law Enforcement Oversight provided the Sheriff with a copy of the report in February. Although we continue to follow-up, we have not yet had a substantive conversation with the Sheriff's Office about the report or the policy changes it recommends. Reassurances of transparency are welcome, but policy changes are what will help ensure against the spread of misinformation when it matters most."
Meanwhile, the inquest and investigation into the shooting of Le continue.
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