Sheriff’s Review Board Finds Killing of Vietnamese American Student Carrying a Pen ‘Justified’
Twenty-year-old Vietnamese American student Tommy Le was shot dead by a King County sheriff’s deputy last year after a pen he was carrying was mistaken for a knife.
Deputy Cesar Molina along with Master Police Officer Tanner Owens responded to reports that a man with a knife was threatening neighbors in the 13600 block of Third Avenue South in Burien in King County, Washington at around midnight on June 14, 2017.
Based on several 911 calls, the said individual was acting bizarrely and making threats. A homeowner told dispatchers that he fired his handgun into the ground to reportedly scare off the man later identified as Le.
The homeowner rushed back inside his house after Le, who was barefoot and wearing shorts and a T-shirt, continued to approach. According to the Sheriff’s Office, Le then pounded on the door and stabbed it, screaming he was “the creator.”
Molina and Owens fired their Tasers at Le, but it was not made clear whether they actually hit him as Le allegedly managed to move toward them.
After Molina shot him three times, they found that Le was holding a pen instead of a knife. He died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle just hours before his graduation from an alternative high school.
His death sparked massive outrage among his family and members of South King County’s Asian-American community.
A report by the King County sheriff’s Use of Force Review Board unanimously concluded that the fatal shooting of Le was “justified and within department policy,”Seattle Times reports.
Based on the report issued Wednesday, Molina “reasonably believed that (Le) was armed with a deadly weapon and that he had already attacked someone with a knife.”
“The man’s actions led Molina to believe that if not stopped, the man posed a serious threat of harm to Molina,” reportedly including another deputy and some residents in Burien.
The probe, which is just one of several inquiries into Le’s shooting, was conducted by an internal department review panel consisting of six-voting members, including Undersheriff Scott Somers, legal adviser Erin Overbey and Steve Eggert, president of the King County Police Officers Guild.
In a press conference following the release of the panel’s report, Le family’s lawyer Jeff Campiche called the sheriff’s investigation “biased and inconsistent.”
“The Le family learned of the Sheriff’s Office conclusion this afternoon from neighbors,” he said. “They weren’t asked for input.”
A civil rights lawsuit against King County, Constantine and John Urquhart, the sheriff at the time of the shooting, has been filed earlier by Le’s family.
There is also a separate formal King County inquest which remains pending as King County Executive Dow Constantine called for an overhaul of the inquest process.
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