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Are King County inquests fair? Task force to examine process

A newly created task force will review the way inquests into deadly officer-involved shootings are conducted in King County.
<div> One man is dead after an officer-involved shooting in Burien.</div> <div>  </div>

In 2017 alone, King County Executive Dow Constantine has ordered 13 inquests into deadly officer-involved shootings. Now, he's hoping a newly created task force can help bring more transparency to the controversial process.

The Executive Orders governing inquests have not been examined in any significant way since 2001, according to Constantine's office.

"The taking of a life by law enforcement must be followed by a public fact-finding forum," said Constantine. "It is time now to examine how this process unfolds, who participates, and their roles in the proceedings. I have directed the members of the Review Committee to identify any potential changes to make inquests more transparent, fair, and meaningful for all those involved, and to provide greater confidence in our justice system to the entire community."

It's an announcement that comes just about a month after the family of 20-year-old Tommy Le called the inquest process flawed and unfair.

A spokesperson for the King County Executive's Office said plans for a review of the inquest process were already in the works, before the the Le family expressed concern.

"We want to find out the truth, what happened to Tommy that night. We want justice for Tommy," said Xuyen Le, who is Tommy's aunt.

Tommy Le was shot and killed by a King County deputy in June. The King County Sheriff's Office has said a deputy shot Le after he refused to drop what officers thought was a knife. KCSO later said it turned out it was a pen in Le's hand, not a weapon.

The Le family and their attorney, Jeff Campiche, have said they feel the current inquest process is too one-sided.

So are they relieved to hear that a task force will now be reviewing and re-examining the process? Not exactly. Campiche said the family still has concerns.

"The problem is not what's included in the topics to be considered by the task force, but what is not included," said Campiche. "And that is, the need for the deceased family's lawyer to be able to address the inquest jury, so that the family has a voice in the hearing that's different from the police voice. Second, the need for an independent investigation of these shootings, independent of the agency that took the life of the civilian."

Campiche said the Le family is worried the inquest process review committee will fall short of addressing those specific issues.

He wrote a letter to Constantine on Friday, expressing his client's concerns. Campiche is also requesting the opportunity to speak to the Inquest Task Force directly.

"There's no way we can find the truth through the current process, without letting us speak," said Xuyen Le. "It's not just about our family, but we want to prevent this from happening to any other family."

According to King County, the review committee must hold at least three public meetings before making its final report, which is due to the Executive's Office by March 2018.

In the meantime, the Le family has started an online petition, asking that changes be made to the inquest process.

"We're not anti-police, but we want a full and fair investigation, and that hasn't occurred yet," said Campiche.

He said the Le family has asked for the right for their attorney to present testimony and speak to the jury during the inquest. A court hearing on that request is now set for January 12.

It's important to note: an inquest is not a trial. Instead, it is a fact-finding hearing to help determine the circumstances around a shooting.

The newly created Inquest Review Committee is charged with reviewing the process to determine what, if any, changes could or should be made to improve the process both for the public and the effected parties.

According to the Executive's Office, topics to be reviewed include "the representation of the family of the deceased and whether this can or should be provided for at public expense."

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