King County, WA — For the last three years, the family of Tommy Le, 20, has been fighting to hold the King County Sheriff's Office accountable for the death of their son. After fighting an uphill battle, they are finally shedding some light on their son's case and exposing the corruption within the sheriff's department over how they justified his murder for holding a pen.
In June of 2017, Le was experiencing a mental health crisis. Neighbors called police to report his behavior and moments after cops showed up, Le would have two bullet holes in his back and one in his hand, lying dead on the ground. He was unarmed, holding only a pen.
An independent report commissioned by the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) found a slew of flaws in the way the King County Sheriff's department "investigated" themselves. For starters, the report failed to mention that Le was “likely running away from the deputy at the time the bullets struck him” and posed zero threat to anyone.
"Most significantly, the Review Board was not presented with a clear picture of what Le was doing and where he was moving in relation to the on-scene deputies and civilians when the shooting occurred," the report said, suggesting "that the threat level to the shooter deputy was diminishing at the time he fired - even if the deputy believed Le possessed a knife."
After the officer killed Le, instead of investigating the officer for the shooting, they allowed the deputy to simply submit a report. He was asked no questions. This fact got the attention of the oversight board who was commissioned to conduct the systemic review into the KCSO's alleged investigation.
“The typical process is the officer is interviewed,” Mike Gennaco, a principal with OIR group who carried out the review, said. “The whole idea of having a report suffice for the first statement from an involved deputy in an officer-involved shooting: that’s unique to us. We haven’t seen it before,” he said. “When you’re writing a report, you get to decide what you write, there’s no ability to ask follow-up questions.”
As KUOW reports, that wasn't all.
In addition, his review said once the deputy was interviewed, investigators asked no follow-up questions and did not provide a summary or transcript of the interview, which contained details that were at odds with the officer’s initial report.
More generally, the review said KCSO continues to abide by a “debunked” notion that memory can improve after officers get some sleep. But the policy is only applied to officers in the wake of a deadly force incident, not to other witnesses or situations. The report states, “Special rules such as these only serve to reinforce skepticism about the rigor and objectivity of such investigations."
Gennaco says “there’s really no good science to suggest that memory improves after 48 hours and certainly memory doesn’t improve after five weeks.” Nevertheless, this is what happened in the case of Tommy Le's killing.
Instead of asking the cop why he shot Le in the back as he ran away, cops chose to focus their efforts on finding a non-existent knife because killing someone holding a pen is hard to justify.
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“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 report states, adding, “this obsession with whether Le had a knife when he aggressed the civilians extended to KCSO’s public statements about the incident.”
Deputies even went to Le's home and grabbed knives from his kitchen and showed them to witnesses attempting to get one to say Le was armed.
"One example is, they went to tremendous extent to suggest or prove that Tommy did have a knife, even though there was no evidence that he had taken a knife from his home. They went to his home, they collected knives, they showed them to witnesses, they tried to get an identification. So this was sort of working overtime to have the story go the way they had put it out initially, instead of getting to the truth of the matter," said Deobrah Jacobs, the director of King County's Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO).
After being unable to find a knife or even fabricate a witness statement, the department made the ridiculous claim that the pen Le was holding could have killed one of the three officers who had him surrounded that night. Seriously.
”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. 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,” a statement from the KCSO said.
Le weighed less than 140 pounds and was surrounded by cops in body armor, holding only a pen and police claimed that this small man could've somehow used this pen to kill all three cops. This statement is an insult to any rational person and the OLEO report agrees.
The new report says this signal that deputies could again use deadly force against someone “armed only with a pen is also remarkable statement.”
That statement "floored me, quite frankly,” Gennaco said. “I think that three deputies on scene with an individual who has only got a pen should be able to neutralize that threat without having to resort to deadly force under any circumstances.”
Gennaco went on to say that the KCSO should retract the statement that the pen is deadly. They have not retracted it and instead circled the wagons to defend the killer cop.
In the land of the free, police can and will get away with murdering mentally ill people and justify it by claiming a pen is a deadly weapon.