King County Sheriff John Urquhart met with two dozen leaders from the Asian Pacific Directors Coalition (APDC) on October 11 to answer questions about the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Burien resident Tommy Le on June 13 and to announce that King County Executive Dow Constantine had decided to seek an inquest into Le’s death.
Le, a high school senior, was shot by King County police who responded to several 911 calls from Burien residents who reported that a man had been threatening people and wielding a sharp object. According to police, Le refused commands to drop the object. He was shot three times by a deputy before being transported to Harborview where he died.
The shooting has sparked community outrage after it was revealed that Le was holding a pen, not a knife as earlier reports had indicated. Last month, Le’s family announced they would be pursuing a $20 million civil rights claim against the County. Le’s attorney noted that an autopsy did not reveal the presence of drugs or alcohol in Le’s body. The autopsy also confirmed that Le had been shot twice in the back and once in the wrist.
“I can’t tell you why the officer didn’t wrestle him to the ground and take that pen out of his hand,”’ Urquhart told the APDC members last week. “That’s what I would have done. But we still need to hear from the officer about what was going through his mind. That will take place during the inquest.”
Last Thursday, Constantine ordered an inquest after the Prosecutor’s office reviewed “investigative materials” from the Sheriff’s office. Inquests are routinely convened for any deaths involving a member of law enforcement.
At the October 11 meeting, held at the Nisei Veterans Committee Hall, Urquhart faced a barrage of questions from skeptical API community members who asked why fatal force was needed to subdue Le and whether responding officers had received adequate police training.
APDC chair Dorothy Wong said, “I’m tired of hearing cops saying, ‘I fear for my life.’”
Others echoed her sentiment, recommending that officers receive more extensive crisis intervention training that is thorough, cultural sensitive and up-to-date.
Urquhart said he agreed with the recommendation for more training. “I can’t change the system,” he said. “It takes the community to push for this requirement.”
Urquhart confirmed that the first toxicology report did not reveal evidence of drugs in Le’s body, “but we’re still waiting for the final report.”