External investigation refutes deputy’s claim, department review into shooting death of Tommy Le

An attorney for Tommy Le's family, Jeff Campiche, describes a King County Sheriff’s Office internal investigation into the shooting death of a 20-year-old in 2017 as a "cover-up."

A deputy who shot and killed Le said he was acting in self-defense. The law enforcement officer claimed Le charged at him holding what the deputy thought was a knife, but it turned out to be a ballpoint pen. 

A department use-of-force review concluded the deputy’s shooting was justified, but a new external investigation released this week found ‘serious gaps’ in the department’s own review.

RELATED: Tommy Le death: Outside review critical of King County Sheriff's Office investigation

“I want some justice for my son,” said Tommy’s father Sunny Le during a press conference Wednesday.

Time and again the Le family said they were promised justice would be served but instead those responsible for killing Tommy have yet to be punished. 

King County Sheriff’s deputies responded to reports of a disoriented young man who allegedly threatened people with a sharp object in their Burien neighborhood in 2017.

Multiple deputies arrived and one soon shot Tommy Le claiming he charged at him with a knife or sharp object – but that turned out to be an ink pen.

A newly published external report authored by the OIR Group concludes the deputies’ actions that day contradicts their claim that Tommy moved toward authorities and calls into question if the department’s own review considered all the facts.

“We need the police,” said Campiche. “We want our communities to be safe but we don’t want them shooting our kids.”

“This report is based on outdated policy,” said King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht during a King County Council Law and Justice Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The Sheriff said many of the OIR Group report’s recommended changes for the department’s internal investigation procedures have already been enacted.

Johanknecht also agreed more work needs to be done but she blamed former Sheriff John Urquhart for portions of the new investigation’s criticisms of the department’s internal review. She said the exact details of what happened between deputies and Le remain at odds.

“There are factual disputes over the facts of that day and my hope is that they may be solved in litigation,” she said.

Attorneys for Le’s family said the external review exposes the department’s internal review as a cover-up because it ignored evidence that suggested Le was moving away from deputies and not towards. Le was shot three times, twice in his back by the deputy.

The new findings appear also to align with messages shared by protesters demanding police transparency and accountability when an officer of the law takes a life, said Campiche.

Le’s family insists Tommy would never have done what deputies claimed.  

“I think all that narrative is not correct or accurate about who he is,” said Tommy’s aunt Uyen Le.

The King County executive’s office does have the authority to open what’s called an inquest, which is a fact-finding investigation that looks into what happened whenever a law enforcement officer shoots and kills someone.

Late last month a judge issued an injunction effectively halting inquests until multiple legal issues are resolved.