Seattle, WA – After serving in the King County Sheriff’s Office for 32 years and running against the incumbent, Mitzi Johanknecht made history in 2017 as the first woman and openly Gay person to be elected to the position of sheriff, a sensational moment for the LGBTQ+ community. However, Johanknecht is now facing numerous demands from King County officials to resign.
A recently surfaced internal email sent by the sheriff has put her fitness to lead the Sheriff’s Office into question. The message regards her response to the $5 million settlement between her office and the family of Tommy Le, a 20-year-old Vietnamese American student who was shot and killed by then-deputy Cesar Molina on the day Le was set to graduate from South Seattle College’s Career Link program. Major discrepancies still remain between the Sheriff’s Office’s internal investigation, eyewitness testimonies, and an analysis of the evidence by the Le family’s legal team. Deputy Molina and his partner allege that Le was wielding a weapon, thought to be a knife, when they arrived at the scene. Crime scene photos indicate no weapon, other than a ballpoint pen on the ground over 20 feet away from the victim.
An external investigation of the case previously found that Le was shot from behind and likely was falling or already down when he was fatally shot.
On March 24, the Le family held a press conference announcing their settlement with the KCSO. Within hours, Sheriff Johanknecht emailed employees of the office, stating, “This case is not a reflection of how I view the actions of Deputy Molina in this incident,” adding that she “just spoke with Deputy Molina.” “He made the tough decisions that sometimes must be made in our profession. Deputy Molina attempted using other means of protecting the civilians who called for help, before he fired his weapon that day,” the email reads. Those calling for Johanknecht’s resignation believe this response was wholly inappropriate. County Councilmember Joe McDermott represents District 8, where the shooting occurred. His 2010 election was similarly as empowering for the community when he became the first openly Gay person to be seated on the council. McDermott’s press release said, “This was a tragedy, and a tragedy that too many communities of color know too well,” adding that Johanknecht’s email “ignored this reality and was, in the most charitable light one might muster, disrespectful to the young person who was killed, to his family, and to our entire community.” McDermott said that the sheriff’s response demonstrates “complete disregard and lack of understanding of what we expect in policing,” and that he has lost confidence in her because of it. Several other councilmembers agree with McDermott’s call for the Sheriff to resign. King County Executive Dow Constantine has reportedly “urged [Johanknecht] to consider retiring immediately.” (Seattle Gay News – Kylin Brown at http://sgn.org/sgnnews49_18/page5.cfm)
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