The King County Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay $5 million dollars for the shooting death of Tommy Le in Burien in 2017.
The settlement was announced on Wednesday, less than a month before the civil rights suit was set to go to trial in U.S. District Court. The Le family was seeking $10M in the suit they filed in 2018.
“There is still pain in our family every day, nothing is going to change,” said Sunny Le, Tommy’s father about the settlement. “I want my son back.”
Le, 20, was about to graduate from high school when he was shot and killed in Burien on June 14, 2017.
Deputies arrived after neighbors called 911 to report Le was acting erratically, pounding on doors and threatening them with a knife. Deputies arrived, after trying to use a taser to stop Le, Deputy Cesar Molina shot him three times.
The Sheriff’s Office initially claimed Le was armed with a knife. No knife was ever recovered at the scene, and a week later the sheriff’s office retracted that claim and said instead Le had a ballpoint pen.
Investigators say Le had trace amounts of LSD in his system and was unarmed when shot in the back. His family spent nearly four years fighting for justice and exposing what they say was a coverup by the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Jeff Campiche, the attorney for the Le family, says witnesses saw Le under a street light before he was killed and said he had nothing in his hands. Attorneys for Le also said the kind of pen found on the scene was the same kind used by the sheriff’s office, suggesting it may have been planted there.
The biggest piece of evidence supporting Le’s family’s claim was where he was shot. The medical examiner determined Le was shot twice in the back and once in the hand. This drew into question how he could have been charging deputies when he was shot, instead indicating he was running away.
The attorneys for the Le family say the results of the autopsy were not included in the investigation.
The shooting was found to be justified by the Force Review Board.
An independent investigation commissioned by the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight found serious gaps in the investigation. It criticized the King County Sheriff’s Office for failing to acknowledge critical facts, including that Mr. Le was not advancing on the deputy who used deadly force.
In December 2020, a federal judge in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sanctioned the lawyers for King County and the deputy for “frivolous appeals.” The judge said the lawyers wasted the court’s time and resources and ordered them to pay court costs to Le’s legal team, nearly $57,000.
Deputy Molina is still employed by the King County Sheriff’s Office.
The King County Sheriff’s Office provided KIRO 7 with a statement:
“The King County Sheriff’s Office was ready and willing to try this case in a court of law.
Although the parties do not agree on the fundamental facts of this case, we are pleased this settlement will allow everyone to avoid a difficult, and likely painful, trial.
King County Sheriff’s Deputy Cesar Molina was dismissed from the lawsuit as a named party as a condition of the settlement.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine sent a statement:
“I hope this settlement brings a measure of peace to the Le family and the community. This tragic event underscores the need for a thorough review of law enforcement policies and procedures following an officer-involved death. I reformed the inquest process to provide families, law enforcement officers, and community members with greater transparency and accountability. The new inquest will help transform police training and practices to prevent future tragedies. My most recent budget invests in community co-creation of new approaches to public safety. But the inquest process is currently on hold as the Washington State Supreme Court deliberates its future. I stand ready to move forward with inquests so that lawmakers and the public can better understand how these deaths happen, and how they can be prevented.”