King County Executive joins growing calls for sheriff’s resignation

Apr 13, 2021, 4:41 PM
King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, coronavirus...
Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht. (KIRO Radio)
(KIRO Radio)

A newly-revealed letter indicates that King County Executive Dow Constantine has joined the growing calls for Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht’s resignation.

King County Sheriff refuses to resign despite councilmember’s demand

Calls for the sheriff to resign first began after an internal email from her to her staff surfaced publicly, where she offered support for the deputy who shot and killed 20-year-old Tommy Le in 2017.

Le, a 20-year-old Vietnamese-American student, was killed after being shot twice. Deputies were first called when neighbors reported seeing Le with a sharp object threatening people. Deputy Cesar Molina was the third deputy to arrive and opened fire less than two minutes later, initially saying Le lunged at deputies with a knife and claimed self-defense.

It was later found that Le only had a ballpoint pen when Molina fired six shots. An autopsy also revealed two of three total shots that hit Le were in the back. The third shot reportedly hit him in the wrist.

Shortly after lawyers for Le’s family announced that the county had agreed to a $5 million settlement stemming from the incident, Johanknecht sent an email to staff members stating that the settlement was “not a reflection” of how she viewed Molina’s actions, and that he had “made the tough decisions that sometimes must be made in our profession.”

Calls for the sheriff’s resignation began to flow in the days and weeks to follow, including from several county councilmembers. On Monday, Dow Constantine became the latest — and most prominent — local leader to echo that sentiment, detailed in a letter he sent to a constituent acquired by the Seattle Times.

Report finds ‘problematic gaps’ in investigation of Tommy Le’s death

In the letter, Constantine indicated that he had spoken to Sheriff Johanknecht recently and “urged her to consider retiring immediately.”

Despite that, Johanknecht has repeatedly emphasized that she does not intend to step down, and plans to serve out the remainder of her term that ends in 2022.

King County voters approved a measure during the last election to make the sheriff an appointment position rather than an elected one, meaning that the next person to fill the role will be chosen by Constantine.

According to the Times, the county executive’s letter “make it clear” that Johanknecht is unlikely to garner that appointment when the time comes.

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King County Executive joins growing calls for sheriff’s resignation