Family of 20-year-old shot to death by officer reaches an agreement with law enforcement.
The King County Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay $5 million dollars for the June 14, 2017 shooting death of Tommy Le, who was 20 years old at the time of this death. The settlement was reached less than a month before the civil rights lawsuit was set to go to trial. Le’s family, who filed a lawsuit in 2018, was seeking $10 million in damages.
Neighbors reportedly called 911 to report Le was pounding on doors and threatening them with a knife. When police officers arrived, after trying to use a taser Le, Deputy Cesar Molina shot him three times.
“Le refused commands to drop what they thought was a knife,” said sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Cindi West in 2017. “Two deputies fired their Tasers, with one of them hitting Le. But it had no effect.”
No knife was ever recovered, however, and a week later the police department revised the statement to indicate that Le had a ballpoint pen. He had trace amounts of LSD in his system, was unarmed and was shot in the back. His family spent nearly four years exposing what they contend was a coverup. Teachers, family, and friends all said it was very uncharacteristic for Le to threaten anyone.
When classmate Nafisa Mohamednur, 19, learned of his death, she responded, “He’s a bubbly kid. He’s an easy person to talk to about anything.”
The Le family attorney, Jeff Campiche, says witnesses saw Le under a streetlight with nothing in his hands. Attorneys for Le also said the pen found on the scene was the same kind used by the sheriff’s office and that it may have been planted at the scene. And, most importantly, Le was shot in the back, indicating he was running away. The attorneys for the Le family say the results of the autopsy were not included in the investigation.
The Force Review Board ruled the death was warranted, but an independent investigation by the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight found the King County Sheriff’s Office “failed to acknowledge critical facts, including that Mr. Le was not advancing on the deputy who used deadly force.”
In December 2020, a federal judge in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sanctioned King County attorneys and the deputy for “frivolous appeals.” The judge said they “wasted the court’s time and resources.”
The sheriff’s office, however, stood by its claims, stating, “The King County Sheriff’s Office was ready and willing to try this case in a court of law. Although the parties do not agree on the fundamental facts of this case, we are pleased this settlement will allow everyone to avoid a difficult, and likely painful, trial. King County Sheriff’s Deputy Cesar Molina was dismissed from the lawsuit as a named party as a condition of the settlement.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine also submitted a statement, saying, “I hope this settlement brings a measure of peace to the Le family and the community. This tragic event underscores the need for a thorough review of law enforcement policies and procedures following an officer-involved death.”
The agreement can only do so much for the family. “There is still pain in our family every day, nothing is going to change,” said Sunny Le, Tommy’s father. “I want my son back.”