The Franklin County coroner is considering convening a rare inquest jury to look into the shooting death of a homeless man by Pasco police earlier this week.
Coroner Dan Blasdel said controversy over the shooting of 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano-Montes by a trio of officers would justify a coroner’s inquest, in which a jury is presented evidence of the shooting and decides whether the officers were justified in their use of deadly force.
“We don’t want another Ferguson here in Pasco,” he said, referring to the suburb of St. Louis, where the shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager by police in August sparked weeks of riots.
The shooting of Zambrano-Montes, which occurred Tuesday February 10th in front of dozens of bystanders at one of the city’s busiest intersections, has drawn sharp criticism from Mexican authorities, some witnesses and members of Zambrano-Montes’ family.
Video of the incident shows the officers firing two volleys of shots at a retreating Zambrano-Montes, who had been acting bizarrely and was throwing rocks at cars and the officers, according to police. Two of the officers were hit with rocks and were treated at the scene by medics, said Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger. The Police Department declined to describe the extent of the officers’ injuries.
Zambrano-Montes, an undocumented immigrant from Michoacán, Mexico, worked as a farm laborer and had been in the Pasco area for about a decade, according to family members.
Witnesses say the officers — identified as Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz — fired as many as 13 rounds.
Blasdel said an autopsy was scheduled for Friday.
Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department on Thursday expressed “deep condemnation” of the shooting, calling it one of the “events in which unwarranted use has been made of lethal force.” The department said the Mexican Consul in Seattle “sent a message of protest to the Pasco chief of police … requesting information on the disciplinary measures that could eventually be imposed on the police officers involved in the incident.”
Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday his staff has been in touch with Pasco officials about the need for a full assessment of the shooting.
“We are going to need to get to the bottom of understanding the circumstances of this,” he said.
The shooting is being investigated by a multiagency Tri-City Special Investigations Unit (SIU) made up of commanders and detectives from surrounding agencies. Kennewick Police Sgt. Ken Lattin, a spokesman for the SIU, said a briefing is scheduled for Friday, but that the investigation itself could take several weeks.
Blasdel said he will not formally decide whether to convene a coroner’s inquest until the SIU investigation is complete.
“But what I’m thinking is that it is a public process and considering the amount of controversy right now, I think being transparent is important,” he said. “The case would be considered by jurors from the community.”
More than 100 people gathered outside City Hall on Wednesday night, some carrying signs saying “Don’t Shoot” and “Use Your Training, Not Your Gun!” A small memorial has sprung up on the sidewalk where Zambrano-Montes died.
The issue of officer training was central to a federal civil-rights lawsuit the city settled for $100,000 two years ago that involved one of the three officers involved in Tuesday’s shooting.
The lawsuit, filed in 2012, named Flanagan and another Pasco officer and alleged they were inadequately trained in the use of force and how to respond to street confrontations.
It claimed that Flanagan and the other officer stopped a 30-year-old woman, Maria Davila-Marquez, while responding to a complaint of a disturbance outside a home.
Her attorney said that although she did not match a description of a teenage suspect, the officers stopped Davila-Marquez and then arrested her when she asked for an interpreter because she spoke little English.
“They only commonality was that my client was a woman and a Latina,” Davila-Marquez’s Yakima lawyer, Vito de la Cruz, told The Seattle Times on Thursday.
De la Cruz said the officers “ridiculed her,” then handcuffed her and bent her over the hood of a patrol car, pressing her cheek onto the scorching hot metal. Davila-Marquez suffered second-degree burns on her face as a result and is scarred, he said.
The officers held her, he said, until a witness to the earlier disturbance came by and told the officers they had the wrong woman. Although Davila-Marquez was released, the officers cited her for hindering police. Those charges were dismissed, de la Cruz said.
Neither officer was disciplined, he said.
“I was horrified when I saw that video,” de la Cruz said of Tuesday’s shooting. “But I have to say when I heard that Flanagan was involved, I was not surprised.”
As with his client, he said, it appeared to him that the force used in Tuesday’s shooting “was excessive and unwarranted.”
Zambrano-Montes’ family met with Metzger, the police chief, on Thursday. Later, his aunt, Angela Zambrano, sat in Vinny’s Bakery and Cafe, where outside a makeshift memorial of candles and flowers in the shape of a cross marked where her nephew died. She again watched the shaky cellphone video that shows him being shot to death.
“Three police officers against one man throwing a rock?” she said, tears welling. “This was murder in cold blood.”
Sometimes using an interpreter, sometimes speaking in English, she said she had known Antonio Zambrano-Montes all her life.
She said the police chief told the family he was sorry about what had happened.
Zambrano grimaced when asked whether the meeting helped. She shook her head.
“Just because they’re police officers they don’t commit mistakes? We all commit mistakes,” she said. “We only want justice for these police officers that killed him.”
She acknowledged that Zambrano-Montes had been in trouble with the law, including a conviction last year for assaulting a police officer. He had been in jail over the weekend for failing to pay his fine and had gotten out on Monday.
“At this moment, it doesn’t matter,” said Fabian Ubay, who interpreted for her.
Zambrano said, “Nobody has a right to take a life away, but God.”
Ubay said a peaceful protest is planned for Saturday.
The shooting has gained national attention, mostly due to a graphic cellphone video posted on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 300,000 times.
It was recorded by Dario Infante Zuniga, 21, a college student who works at an auto-parts shop. He was at a stoplight near the popular Fiesta Foods supermarket when he said he saw what looked like a man throwing rocks at a police officer. Other officers arrived and Zuniga kept filming as police first tried to subdue Zambrano-Montes with a Taser, then resorted to their guns.
“I witnessed somebody’s life end right before me,” said Zuniga, who said he was shaken up. He thinks the shooting was unnecessary.
“I hope my video helps,” said Zuniga. “They wrongfully shot the man.”
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or email@example.com. Twitter @stimesmcarter.
Seattle Times staff reporter Joseph O’Sullivan and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which includes information from The Associated Press.
Erik Lacitis reported from Pasco.
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