Autopsy: Deputies shot Burien man in back
SEATTLE -- The autopsy report detailing the death of a 20-year-old man shot by a King County deputy in June shows that the unarmed man was shot twice in the back.
The report was made public Thursday morning, as the family of Tommy Le announced their claim against the King County Sheriff's Office for his slaying.
Le was shot at 136th Avenue South and Third Avenue South June 14 during an incident that remains shrouded in mystery. The King County Sheriff's Office initially claimed Le appeared to advance on deputies with a knife, but then later said he was holding a pen. It's still unclear whether Le held anything in his hand at the time he was shot, but the attorney representing his family says he possessed no weapon at all.
"It was a mistake to kill this young man," said Jeffrey Campiche at a Thursday morning press conference.
Deputy Cesar Molina reportedly fired six shots that night. Two hit Le in the back and one hit him in the wrist, according to the autopsy.
The autopsy also revealed that Le -- who was set to graduate from a high school program at South Seattle Community College later that day -- had no drugs or alcohol in his system when he was shot, nor did he show signs of being a serial drug user. His family claims he had never shown signs of mental health trouble. He was close with his family and lived with them until six months before his death, but still saw them daily.
"I cannot find any plausible way my son would deserve to be shot in the back," said Hoai Le, Tommy Le's father, through a Vietnamese interpreter.
The incident report from the Sheriff's Office says several people called 911 about midnight June 14, reporting a man with a knife and gunfire. Callers claimed the man was shouting, "I am the Creator" and "I am the killer" while trying to stab people.
Ten patrol units responded to the 13600 block of Third Avenue South, where several people stood in the front yard of a house and on the street, according to the Sheriff's Office.
One person was reportedly attacked with a knife and ran to his friend's house, where he grabbed a pistol and went outside again. The attacker came after the homeowner, so the person with the pistol fired a round into the ground to allegedly try to stop the assailant from advancing.
The gunfire didn't work. Le reportedly lunged at people with a knife and the homeowner retreated to his house to call 911 as the man stabbed at the front door, the Sheriff's Office says. No one was hurt.
While deputies investigated the incident, one of the alleged victims pointed out Le as the assailant, who was about half a block away and walking down the street toward the officers and residents with something in his hand, reports say.
Two deputies -- Cesar Molina and Tanner Owens -- confronted him and ordered him to drop whatever was in his hand, according to the Sheriff's Office. Le continued to advance, however, prompting the deputies to back away and circle around him. The deputies then both used their Tasers, which had no effect.
The reports say Le continued to advance on deputies, prompting Molina to fire the fatal shots.
Le was taken to Harborview Medical Center, but was declared dead at the hospital.
The events leading up to Le's death remain under investigation. He wore only a T-shirt, jogging shorts and flip flops -- not clothing in which he could easily have concealed a weapon, Campiche says.
The claim says Le posed no risk to officers and that his shooting was "an overreaction from poorly trained officers."
The shooting was followed only four days later by the controversial death of Charleena Lyles, who was also said to have advanced on police with one or more knives in her Sand Point apartment in Seattle.
As with Lyles, attorneys pointed out Le's small stature -- 5 feet 4 inches and 120 pounds -- to illustrate he should not have been seen as a physical threat.
Lyles was about 5 feet tall and 90 to 100 pounds. Her family, too, has filed a claim against the police agency whose cops killed her.
Though her mental health at the time of her death remains in dispute, she was also cleared of alcohol or drug use in her autopsy.
Le's family didn't receive confirmation of Le's death until days after it occurred, they claim. Even then, they were told he advanced on deputies with a knife, which shocked them because it was uncharacteristic of him.
"I was just so shocked because I just could not fathom any possibility that Tommy was capable of doing that," Hoai Le said through the interpreter.
They say the Sheriff's Office story about Le's death keeps changing. They didn't even know he was shot in the back until they received the autopsy report last week, Campiche said.
Sheriff John Urquhart attended a community meeting in July to address public concerns about the case. He called for the acquisition of body cameras and an independent investigation into the shooting. But he conceded the details remained hazy.
"Something happened to Tommy that night," Urquhart said that night, surmising Le suffered a mental crisis. "We don't know what that was, we don't know why."
Le was described by his family as an avid chess player and voracious reader. He would spend time with his cousin Missouri Le, 24, at the local library or Barnes and Noble just to read books. He borrowed the college text books of his aunt, 27-year-old Uyen Le, and discussed them with her, she said Thursday.
When Campiche visited Le's family after his death, he found two books open in his bedroom: "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "Faust."
"He was a really kind kid, really intelligent," Uyen Le said through tears. "He's just a fun person to be around."
He aspired to become a firefighter or EMT.
"Tommy to us is a good son, someone who was kind, great with his friends, and everyone in his family loves him," Hoai Le said.
Le's family escaped violence in Vietnam and moved to Missouri in 1991 and then moved to the Seattle area the next year. Le is the youngest of six children.
Neither Le nor any members of his family have a criminal record.
The family may file a lawsuit 60 days after the filing of the claim.
Le's aunt Xuyen Le, grandmother Kim Le -- with whom he gardened in the backyard -- and mother Dieu Ho were also at Thursday's press conference.
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