The King County Sheriff’s Office is releasing the Use of Force Review Board’s findings regarding the Deputy-involved shooting death of Tommy Le on 6-14-2017 in Burien.
Our internal Use of Force Review Board usually follows an inquest. This Review Board was delayed as we waited for the County Executive’s Office to revise and implement a new inquest process. Because that process is still pending and it is not clear when a new process will be implemented, KCSO believed it was in the best interest of the community and the Office to proceed without further delay and held its Use of Force Review Board on June 20, 2018.
First, a note about the scope of the Use of Force Review Board. The review is required by our General Orders Manual after a deputy-involved shooting, and when the member’s use of force rises to the level of a “serious force incident.” The Board evaluates information on the events leading up to a serious force incident to determine whether the level of force was appropriate, necessary and within policy. The Board hears from the involved officers, the KCSO training unit, the investigators assigned to the incident and personnel with specialized expertise, such as the use of Tasers.
UOF Review Board Findings
KCSO is proactively releasing the memo of the UOF Review Board’s findings, so the public can see how the Board reached its decision.
The Use of Force Review Board unanimously concluded that the force used against Tommy Le was justified and within department policy.
As noted in the Board’s memo, when they first encountered Tommy Le, Deputy Cesar Molina and Master Police Officer Tanner Owens initially employed verbal de-escalation techniques consistent with their training. When verbal commands to stop and drop the object in his hand did not work, the Deputies tried to create distance and space between themselves and Mr. Le. Both the Deputies chose to deploy the less lethal option of their Tasers. At one point, Mr. Le moved within 5 feet of Master Police Officer Owens, holding what was believed to be a knife in a clenched fist, and moving forward rapidly.
When their prior efforts using less-lethal tactics (Taser) did not stop Mr. Le from continuing to charge toward the deputies, and civilian bystanders positioned behind them, the Board concluded that Molina and Owens acted within policy when they drew their service weapons and Molina fired. The Board concluded Molina feared Le would harm him, Owens or the people in the yard nearby, with the object he held in his hand.
Additional, Relevant Facts of the Incident:
This incident began when several residents came in contact with Le that night. They describe being fearful he may stab them. The first to come into contact with him called 911. The evidence gathered shows Le advanced on a second resident, who was so fearful he would be stabbed he fired a shot from his personal handgun. That man retreated inside his home, shut the door, and then heard what he believed was Mr. Le stabbing or striking the door. We have included a photograph of the damage to the door. Analysis of the marks, to determine what sort of weapon made them, is still pending at the State Crime Lab. We have included those 911 calls in our release of information.
We have also included photographs of knives taken, pursuant to a search warrant, from a nearby residence where Mr. Le was renting a room. Two of the witnesses mentioned above independently chose a butterfly knife, depicted in the photo labeled JPG #0980, as resembling what they believe they saw in Le’s hand when the incident began several minutes before Deputies arrived on scene.
After the shooting, deputies discovered that Mr. Le was armed with a pen at the time of the confrontation with KCSO Deputies. We have included a photograph of that pen taken at the scene.
We have also provided a copy of the section of the KCSO manual applicable to a Use of Force Review Board.
Although Deputies & witnesses were convinced Le had a knife, it is not clear that events would have evolved differently even if deputies realized that Le held a pen. A pen can be used as an improvised weapon. Aimed at vulnerable parts of the body, like the face or throat, it can cause serious bodily injury if used to stab someone. In this case, Le was moving quickly toward the deputies with the object held in a clenched fist and did not acknowledge verbal commands to drop what he was holding, leading Deputy Molina to fear for his safety and the safety of others.
In closing, our hearts continue to go out to the Le family. They have lost a cherished son, brother, nephew and friend and we continue to be mindful of their loss and their grief.
KCSO respectfully declines further comment on this incident, as the Le matter is now in civil litigation. Thank you for your understanding.