A King County Sheriffs Deputy was justified in killing the unarmed 20-year-old Tommy Le last June because Le was holding an ink pen which could "cause serious bodily injury if used to stab someone," according to a unanimous opinion from the King County Sheriff's Office Use of Force Review Board.
The review board's opinion, released Wednesday afternoon, states that the two officers, Deputy Cesar Molina and Master Police Officer Tanner Owens, acted within company policy when they fatally confronted the 20-year-old.
"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," according to a press release from the sheriff's office.
The Sheriff's Office has been caught in multiple misstatements or omissions of facts surrounding the police killing of Tommy Le. Initially, the sheriff's office told the media that deputies had killed a "knife-wielding man" after he charged them, omitting the fact that Le was unarmed and holding only a pen when Molina killed him.
Initial news reports from Nina Shapiro at the Seattle Times and numerous television journalists, including Denise Whitaker, published that narrative.
Detectives comb neighborhood w/ flashlights looking for evidence after @Burien police shoot/kill man armed w/ knife #KOMOnews pic.twitter.com/VCKQA1uLKp
— Denise Whitaker🏃♀️ (@deniseonKOMO) June 14, 2017
The sheriff's office failed to offer any new information about Le's weapon until Daniel Person, the news editor at the Seattle Weekly (RIP) at the time, questioned the sheriff's office narrative. The office then released the additional information that Le was holding a pen, not a knife, when he was shot and killed by police.
An autopsy report released by the family in September further contradicted the sheriff's office's narrative, showing that Molina shot Tommy Le twice in the back and once in his wrist, calling into question how Le could have been charging the officer if the officer shot him in the back.
The Sheriff's Office did not address the location of Le's bullet wounds in their press release announcing today's findings.
The press release offers two justifications for Le being killed for possessing a pen in the presence of a police officer. First, the two officers believed the pen was a knife in the moment, so they were justified in shooting him. Second, the review board claims that even if the two officers knew Le was holding only a pen, they would still be justified in killing him.
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.