An independent review conducted by the California-based OIR Group has found “serious gaps” in the investigation into Tommy Le’s fatal shooting in 2017.
Independent review: The review, commissioned by the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), discovered several flaws with the King County Sheriff’s Office’s (KCSO) investigation with Le’s death, according to KUOW.
- The report mentioned the Use-of-Force Review Board failed to consider other details of the case, including whether Le was “likely running away from the deputy at the time the bullets struck him” on his back twice and one on his hand.
- The “systemic review,” which was conducted by Mike Gennaco with the OIR Group, pointed out that KCSO only allowed officers involved in the use of deadly force to submit written reports.
- “When you’re writing a report, you get to decide what you write, there’s no ability to ask follow-up questions,” he said.
- Gennaco said investigators did not follow up on their investigation and did not provide a summary or transcript of their interview. In addition, Gennaco supports interviewing officers on the same day the shooting happened as opposed to the “debunked” notion KCSO still abides by, stating an officer’s memory can improve after getting some sleep.
- Although other agencies wait before interviewing the officer involved, Gennaco said “there’s really no good science to suggest that memory improves after 48 hours and certainly memory doesn’t improve after five weeks.” There is also “the risk of contamination” in the officer’s version of the encounter.
- “The lengths to which KCSO detectives sought to learn whether Le actually possessed a knife during his encounter with the civilians stands in sharp contrast to the short-shrift devoted to the other and more critical aspects of the encounter, namely the on-scene deputies’ actions and decision-making,” the systemic review said, adding, “this obsession with whether Le had a knife when he aggressed the civilians extended to KCSO’s public statements about the incident.”
- “Although deputies and witnesses were convinced Le had a knife, it is not clear that events would have evolved differently if deputies realized that Le held a pen,” KCSO said in its statement. “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.”
- KCSO argued that despite the fact Le only carried a pen at the time and not a knife, it was enough justification to use deadly force in its statement, which shocked Gennaco.
Criminal charges: The King County Prosecutor has not decided if the police officer who shot Le should face criminal charges.
- “In our twenty years of experience reviewing officer-involved shootings, this is the first occasion we have encountered in which there has been no formal review of the deadly force’s legality,” the review said. “It is ironic that efforts to make the inquest process more objective and increase perceptions of legitimacy have instead resulted in no criminal determination, at least for this case.”
- The officers involved would need to be pursued using “the law that was in effect at the time,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said.
- A new legal standard was passed in 2018 to require prosecutors to present evidence that a police officer acted with “malice,” which is nearly impossible to meet, according to Satterberg.
Other details: The review also recommended several changes to improve KCSO’s way of investigating the use of force incidents.
- Le’s family wants to see these recommendations implemented, their lawyer, Jeff Campiche, said.
- He added they also want the prosecutor’s office to review the shooting to determine if criminal charges should be filed, KING5 reported.
- “No more gobbledygook,” Campiche said when he called on Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, who took office after Sheriff John Urquhart, who was in charge at the time of the attack, to take responsibility. “Just Tommy Le shouldn’t have been shot in the back.”
- “I fully understand how certain decisions about the release or omission of info to the media just after the shooting in 2017 undermine the public trust,” Johanknecht said in a video conference on Wednesday morning. “I cannot explain or answer why those decisions were made by the previous sheriff, but we can and do apologize for our lapses in public information sharing.”
Featured Image via Seattle Times/Career Link