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Report finds 'serious gaps' with investigation of Tommy Le's shooting death by a King County deputy

Tommy Le was fatally shot by a deputy in Burien in June 2017. The King County Sheriff's Office later revealed he was holding a pen instead of a knife.

For three years, Tommy Le's family has wondered what really happened the night he was fatally shot by a King County Sheriff's deputy in Burien.

The sheriff's office determined the shooting was justified, but the family has never been satisfied with the outcome.

Now, an outside review of the case has found "serious gaps" in the sheriff's office internal investigation of the 20-year-old's death. 

The review was conducted by the OIR Group, which has investigated at least 400 officer-involved shootings across the country, and was hired by the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight.

In June 2017, neighbors called 911 saying a man had been acting bizarre and threatening people with "a knife or some sort of sharp object."

Three deputies responded and two of them said Le's fists were clenched with something in his hand and they both fired their tasers when he didn't stop. They said Le kept advancing towards them and the deputy who fired the fatal shots said he feared for his life and had no other choice but to use deadly force.

The sheriff's office later revealed Le didn't have a knife, but he was holding a pen instead.

RELATED: Tommy Le's family wants his death by King County deputies included in state probe of police killings

The report revealed both deputies had 48 hours to give a written statement, which is against best practices. They also weren't interviewed by detectives until five weeks after the shooting.  According to the report, the interviewers essentially asked the deputies to tell their story and asked almost no follow-up questions. And although detectives knew the autopsy showed Le was shot twice in the back, the report says detectives asked no questions about that.

The report found King County's Use of Force Review Board did not consider key evidence in determining whether use of force was justified -- including evidence that Le was likely running away from deputies when he was struck by the bullets.

RELATED: Deputy's use of force against Tommy Le justified, says review board

"Most significantly, the Review Board was not presented with a clear picture of what Le was doing and where he was moving in relation to the on-scene deputies and civilians when the shooting occurred," the report said, suggesting "that the threat level to the shooter deputy was diminishing at the time he fired - even if the deputy believed Le possessed a knife."

Deobrah Jacobs, the director of King County's Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), says the internal investigation was not thorough enough in some areas, yet too thorough in other areas that would support the narrative that Le had a knife.

"One example is, they went to tremendous extent to suggest or prove that Tommy did have a knife, even though there was no evidence that he had taken a knife from his home. They went to his home, they collected knives, they showed them to witnesses, they tried to get an identification. So this was sort of working overtime to have the story go the way they had put it out initially, instead of getting to the truth of the matter," said Jacob.

The report recommended 29 changes the King County Sheriff's Office should make to improve the way it investigates use of force incidents.

"What we would most like is for the sheriff's office to indicate which issues it will accept and which it takes issue with and then we'd like to talk through the ones it has hesitance and learn more," said Jacobs.

Le's family has filed a $10 million civil rights lawsuit against King County and the deputy that fatally shot Le.

The family's attorney, Jeff Campiche, said, "The report states what the family has known from the beginning: Their son wasn't lunging at Deputy Molina with a knife in his hand when he was shot. He was running away from Molina, and his hands were empty, as witnesses clearly saw."

The King County Sheriff's Office responded to the independent report on Tuesday. Their statement said, in part, "The King County Sheriff’s Office has reviewed the recent report written by an outside third party hired by The Office of Law Enforcement Oversight. This report was intended to examine the circumstances surrounding the investigation of the officer involved shooting of Tommy Le. We agree that the Sheriff’s Office must have strong systems in place to investigate and evaluate the actions of our members and to initiate clear accountability measures when their actions fall short, and make important course corrections based on lessons learned from prior events." 

Read the full response from King County here