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King County to pay $5 million settlement in 2017 deputy shooting death of Tommy Le

King County will pay Tommy Le’s estate $5 million to settle a civil-rights lawsuit.

King County will pay $5 million to the estate of Tommy Le to settle a civil rights case over the 2017 deputy-involved shooting.

In announcing the settlement, the family's attorneys said Wednesday the King County Sheriff's Office "collectively covered up the truth by concealing, omitting, misstating, and even tampering with evidence" during the investigation.

“We feel [the $5 million settlement] is a statement that [King County has] not been truthful to the public,” said Jeff Campiche, the family’s attorney.

An outside review of the case found "serious gaps" in the sheriff's office investigation, KING 5 reported in September.

“The settlement of this case is a victory for justice for Tommy Le,” said Campiche, surrounded by Le’s family. “It’s the truth of what happened.”

In 2017, King County Sheriff's Deputy Cesar Molina shot and killed 20-year-old Le in Burien.

The sheriff's office initially said Le was threatening neighbors with a knife and charged towards deputies with a weapon in hand. Authorities later admitted he was shot in the back and was holding a pen, not a knife.

“It’s no secret there was a coverup, it was so transparent when it was finally revealed,” said Campiche. “The truth is that Deputy Molina shot and killed an unarmed, 120-pound Asian high school student in the back while he was retreating, and that does not meet the constitutional requirements for the use of deadly force. And the King County Sheriff’s Office, collectively, covered up the truth by concealing, omitting and misstating, and even tampering with the evidence.”

In a statement, the King County Sheriff's Office said it was ready and willing to try the case in court.

"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," the sheriff's office said.

In 2020, an independent review conducted by the OIR Group 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. 

“I feel relieved,” Dieu Ho, Le’s mother, said through an interpreter. “…I think it is satisfactory that they somewhat admit that my son was respectful of the law and he would never try to attack a police officer.”

The family filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county and the deputy, who was cleared of any wrongdoing.