PASCO, Wash. (AP) — Four people have been shot and killed by police in recent months in this agricultural city of 68,000 in southeastern Washington, and the most recent death of an orchard worker accused of throwing rocks at officers has sparked protests after witnesses said he was running away.
Antonio Zambrano-Montes' death Tuesday marks the fourth fatal police shooting since last summer in Pasco, a city about 215 miles southeast of Seattle. In three previous cases, prosecutors cleared officers with the Pasco Police Department and a sheriff's deputy who was working on a regional SWAT team.
Police say Zambrano-Montes' threatening behavior led officers to open fire. The 35-year-old threw multiple rocks, hitting two officers, and refused to put down other stones. They say a stun gun failed to subdue him.
He had a run-in with Pasco police early last year, having been arrested for assault after throwing objects at officers and trying to grab an officer's pistol, court records show.
Some people who saw the shooting at a busy intersection Tuesday evening videotaped the confrontation, and witnesses said Zambrano-Montes was fleeing when officers opened fire.
In one video recording by Dario Infante, 21, of Pasco, five "pops" are audible shortly after the video begins, and the man can be seen running away, across a street and down a sidewalk, pursued by three officers. As the officers draw closer to the running man, he stops, turns around and faces them. Multiple "pops" are heard and the man falls to the ground.
Family members told the Tri-City Herald (http://is.gd/1aEP6y0 ) that police were out of line and should have used less deadly tactics to get him under control.
"We want justice," said Erica Salazar, a relative. "It could have been avoided."
Gov. Jay Inslee said he was monitoring the situation and said his staff has been in contact with local officials.
"We are going to need to get to the bottom of understanding the circumstances of this," he said. "There will be, and needs to be, a very complete assessment of all of the circumstances of what happened here. And that needs to happen, in detail, in depth."
Protesters chanted "We want justice" in English and Spanish at Pasco City Hall on Wednesday, and they planned to demonstrate again Saturday, KNDU-TV reported.
Meanwhile, a handful of people showed up at Pasco City Hall on Thursday to show support for police. "It's important for these officers to know the entire community is not out to get them," Chris Black, an Army veteran, told the Tri-City Herald.
Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger asked residents for patience as an investigation by the Tri-City Special Investigation Unit and an internal review move forward.
"The officers are ... on administrative leave — until they are reviewed and everything is done, they will not be back to work," he said. "It's important we get the right information."
Kennewick Police Sgt. Ken Lattin, a spokesman for the team investigating the shooting, said Thursday afternoon that he had not been briefed on the case. He said he has scheduled a news briefing for Friday afternoon.
An autopsy was scheduled Friday for Zambrano-Montes, who was raised in Michoacan, Mexico, and has lived for about a decade in Pasco, where more than half the residents are Hispanic.
Mexico's Foreign Relations Department issued a statement Thursday expressing "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 had "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."
The department said it was helping Zambrano-Montes' family "with the aim of ensuring that all available legal avenues are explored and taken to their fullest extent."
Family members told the Tri-City Herald that Zambrano-Montes battled depression after being separated from his two teen daughters.
"He was a kind person, family-oriented," his cousin, Blanca Zambrano, told the newspaper. "He was hardworking."
Three other people have been killed recently in police shootings in the city.
Last month, a Pasco police officer was cleared for fatally shooting a suspected car thief who pulled an Airsoft pistol following a foot chase in September. In deciding not to file charges, Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Sant said the officer feared for his life when he shot Matthew Stoddard.
In December, an investigation found that a Benton County sheriff's deputy was justified in fatally shooting an intoxicated man outside his Pasco home last summer. Rick Howard was shot and killed after a four-hour standoff. Authorities said he fired more than 60 rounds at officers.
In November, a prosecutor cleared two Pasco officers who shot and killed Brad Jensen, 34, at a home in July. Authorities said his family members called police over a domestic problem and he approached officers with a kitchen knife and disobeyed their commands.