King County Sheriff refuses to resign despite councilmember’s demand

Mar 29, 2021, 5:13 PM | Updated: Mar 30, 2021, 5:24 am
Tommy Le...
Messages written by friends and family remembering Tommy Le. (KIRO Radio/Hanna Scott)
(KIRO Radio/Hanna Scott)

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott is demanding that King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknect resign after she sent an internal email to her staff and deputies in support of the deputy who shot 20-year-old Tommy Le. She tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that she will not be stepping down.

Rantz: Councilmember uses Tommy Le death to bash police — he should resign

Le, a 20-year-old Vietnamese-American student, was killed after being shot twice in 2017. Deputies were first called when neighbors reported seeing Le with a sharp object threatening people, calling himself “the creator.” It was later revealed that Le was disoriented from LSD.

Today, the King County Sheriff’s Department maintains that they did everything by the book. The officer involved had been cleared of any wrongdoing. Last week, however, the King County Prosecutor’s Office settled for $5 million with the Le family who had brought a suit against the county.

In her email, Sheriff Johanknect acknowledged that there are a lot of reasons they may end up settling, including that emotion can get in the way of facts. Despite the push from councilmember McDermott, she says she’s not going to resign.

“I’m going to fulfill my term that I was elected to,” she said.

Jason asked Johanknect for her take on McDermott’s argument that she was dismissive of the Le family’s plight and that the implication is that her deputies are racist.

“Well, let me start with the last thing first,” she replied. “So this was a federal lawsuit brought by the family and, unlike many of the cases we’re seeing across the country that bring national attention in the media, this case rose out of multiple 911 calls for service.”

“A citizen reporting being approached and threatened with a knife, a person approaching him … was later identified as Mr. Le, and the narrative in the lawsuit that there was no racial bias component to it,” she added. “Although the plaintiff originally claims that the event was racially selected by law enforcement, they didn’t respond to the county’s motion to dismiss the claim.”

The trial court concluded, the sheriff explained, that the motion to dismiss was granted, and such claims are dismissed with prejudice, and that those claims lack merit.

“I will also remind everyone that’s listening and in conversation, these are horrible events,” Johanknect said. “They’re horrible for families of the decedent. They’re horrible for law enforcement and members of the department who have to use deadly force.”

Johanknect also says she reached out directly to McDermott after seeing his call for her to resign.

“I called his phone and left him a message to say, ‘Hey, it would have been nice to get a phone call from you first because I could have pointed you and … provided the ability for you to listen to the independent neighbor residents that live in your district as well.’ And their statements of alarm and concern to the point where one went in, got his handgun, and fired a warning shot before the cops even arrived.”

“And when those officers, deputies arrived on the scene, it was chaotic,” she added.

In a short window of time, Johanknect says the deputies had to determine who everyone was, and try to figure out who the residents were that were the complainants.

“Then all of a sudden we’ve got, within a short period, Tommy Le coming back to the scene,” she added. “And I know folks are upset that I haven’t talked in more detail, but in government, we don’t talk until there’s a lawsuit settlement. That’s the hard part for law enforcement, right? We can’t come out right away and speak about things because there’s so many events that occurred to include employee rights, and investigations, and internal reviews, and independent investigations and so on.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here 

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King County Sheriff refuses to resign despite councilmember’s demand