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Sheriff’s Office to pay $5M in fatal shooting of young man

March 24, 2021 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — The King County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to pay $5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a young man who was shot in the back and killed by a deputy in suburban Seattle.

The settlement announced Wednesday comes three weeks before a $10 million civil-rights lawsuit filed by Tommy Le’s family in 2018 was set to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Seattle, The Seattle Times reported.

The 2017 shooting death of Le in Burien sparked outrage in the community. It also was criticized by policing experts over the circumstances of Le’s death and for the questionable investigation that followed.

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At a news conference, Le’s family said they would continue fighting for reform and accountability at the sheriff’s office. Le’s father, Hoai “Sunny” Le, said no amount of money could replace his son, and that he doesn’t want any other family to experience what his family has gone through.

“There is still pain in our family every day,” he said. “I want my son back.”

Le, 20, who was under the influence of hallucinogens on the night before his high-school graduation in June 2017, reportedly ran at deputies who had responded to a report of a disoriented man, possibly armed with a knife or sharp object, authorities said.

King County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Cesar Molina was the third deputy to arrive and, according to his sworn deposition and court documents, confronted and shot Le after he and another deputy failed to incapacitate him with a stun gun. The King County sheriff’s office initially reported Le had attacked deputies with a knife or sharp object and was shot in self-defense.

More than a week later, the sheriff’s office reported Le had a ballpoint pen, not a knife. An autopsy and investigation showed Le was shot twice in the back and once in the wrist, court records said.

The sheriff’s Force Review Board concluded the shooting was justified.

However, an outside review of the case by the Los Angeles-based OIR Group described a “lack of rigor” in the internal investigation, saying the evidence indicated Le was likely moving away from Molina and the other deputy, who Molina said he was trying to protect, when he fired. The report said the sheriff’s investigators never explored the inconsistencies in the evidence.

A statement Wednesday from Sgt. Tim Meyer, a spokesperson with the King County Sheriff’s Office, said the 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.”

Molina was dismissed from the lawsuit as a named party as a condition of the settlement, the statement added.

The county has lost virtually every major decision in the litigation, including an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which resulted in sanctions for filing a frivolous action that Le’s lawyers claimed was a delay tactic.

The circumstances of Le’s shooting have been repeatedly cited as evidence for reforms in police investigations and the Legislature’s efforts this year to strengthen police accountability.