By Sophia Stephens & Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
One year since the shooting death of Tommy Le, his family says they are dissatisfied with the investigation into his case.
“This past year was one that was terrible,” said the family in statement. “And now, on the anniversary of Tommy’s death, all of us feel disappointed with the lack of resolution from King County.”
On June 12 — almost exactly one year since the tragedy — the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) released the report titled Transparency and Media Relations in High Profile Police Cases — analyzing how the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) releases information to the public following officer-involved shootings — it used Le’s incident as a case study. Le, a 20-year-old Vietnamese American, was fatally shot by a King County deputy on June 13, 2017.
The report recommended better ways in which KCSO can be more transparent about high-profile police shootings. Le’s sister, Uyen Le, along with aunt Xuyen Le, Le’s family legal counsel Jeffrey Campiche, Le’s mother, Deu Ho Yuew, and Linda Diem Tran, Le family’s interpreter and legal counsel, testified at King County Council chambers on June 12, about the harm done by the KSCO’s handling of the details surrounding Le’s death.
Initial reports from the Sheriff’s Office claimed that Le had been carrying a knife, but was later found to have been carrying a pen when he died. To date, there has been no evidence indicating that Le ever had a knife in his possession. According to the report, the Sheriff’s Office failed to correct these inaccuracies, only reporting that only a pen had been found, following media coverage.
“A year has passed and King County has not accepted responsibility for how it has misrepresented [Tommy] to the public and in the media,” said the Le family statement. “The officer who shot Tommy still blatantly carries a gun in our neighborhood. Public information officials who have misrepresented the truth, or those who allowed mistruths, are still in office (at their jobs).”
After Le’s death, several forums were held that publicly addressed the consequences of the Sheriff Office’s lack of clarity and communication, and the need for responding measures for accountability to be taken.
Le’s family wants justice. “We are a strong Vietnamese family, one who works hard within society, one that has led a good life, a family that is supported by the local Vietnamese community — and we will not give up until King County takes responsibility for what happened to our Tommy.”
“What appears in the press about an incident has a profound impact on the public’s perception of an incident, as well as on the loved ones of anyone harmed during an interaction with police,” said Deborah Jacobs, Director of OLEO. “It’s important that the Sheriff’s Office have policies that build trust and legitimacy with communities by ensuring communications originating from their office are accurate, timely, and respectful.”
Measures in the report include protocol for timely reporting of critical incidents, transparent corrections in cases of misinformation or misleading reporting, and improved communications between the Sheriff’s Office and multicultural communities, particularly ethnic media serving non-English-speaking populations.
“We’re excited to have the opportunity to work cooperatively with a forward-thinking law enforcement agency on formulating a set of best practices that will minimize friction in interactions with journalists in high-pressure situations,” said Frank LoMonte, Director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information. “When a newsworthy event occurs, people are bombarded with rumors and speculations on social media. Pushing out reliable information promptly, and keeping that information regularly updated, is the best antidote.”
The Le family said, “The Asian community is waiting for justice, waiting for King County to do more than express sympathy and remorse.”
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