Inquest planned, $25M claim filed in Wash. police shooting

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Posted: Feb 14, 2015 1:46 AM
Inquest planned, $25M claim filed in Wash. police shooting

PASCO, Wash. (AP) — A county coroner in southeastern Washington said Friday he plans to order an inquest into a deadly police shooting in hopes of defusing rising tensions.

The family of an orchard worker killed Tuesday after he was accused of hurling rocks at police has filed a $25 million claim with the city of Pasco and the president of Mexico reiterated his country's condemnation of the violence against a Mexican citizen.

Police involved in the investigation confirmed Friday that Antonio Zambrano-Montes was not armed with either a gun or a knife. Whether he had a rock in his hand when he was shot is still under investigation, Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin said.

Lattin, the spokesman for a group of outside police agencies investigating the shooting, appealed for calm.

"Our constitution allows people to gather and protest. That is perfectly OK," Lattin said of a march planned for Saturday. "Be respectful of others, their person, their property."

Witnesses have said the man was running away when police fired. Some people who saw the shooting at a busy intersection videotaped the confrontation.

Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday night that he's decided to order an inquest, which would be open to the public, in hopes of calming "some of the fears and outrage of the community."

While an inquest won't proceed until police finish gathering evidence and witness statements, "it's going to make this whole investigation transparent," Blasdel said. Also needed will be pathology and toxicology reports expected to take six to eight weeks.

More than half the residents of this agricultural city of 68,000 are Hispanic. Blasdel said he hopes to have Hispanics represent at least half of the six-person panel.

"The main thing is we don't want another Ferguson in Pasco," he said, referring to the unrest that followed the Aug. 9 killing of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, and a grand jury's decision not to indict the white officer who shot him.

In 20 years as coroner, Blasdel said he's convened two previous Franklin County inquests.

Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant said it was too early to speculate about what charges potentially could be brought against the three officers involved. They have been placed on leave.

The Pasco police department also is conducting an administrative investigation of the shooting.

Zambrano-Montes' death is the fourth fatal police shooting since last summer in Pasco. Raised in Michoacan, Mexico, the man had lived for about a decade in this city 215 miles southeast of Seattle.

He died from gunshot wounds to the torso, according to a coroner's report released Friday.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Friday reiterated his country's "condemnation of the disproportionate use of lethal force" by members of the Pasco police against a Mexican citizen.

"I have directed the secretary of foreign relations to support his family so they feel the backing and support of the government of Mexico, so they don't feel alone and so there is a close monitoring of the investigation into this regrettable and outrageous occurrence," he said at a gathering of members of the foreign diplomatic corps in Mexico City.

Zambrano-Montes' family filed a claim with the city of Pasco on Friday for $25 million in damages. The claim, which was filed by his widow and two daughters, is a precursor to a lawsuit. The city has 60 days to respond.

Detectives are gathering dash-cam video, evidence from the scene, citizen video and police equipment and will be interviewing at least 40 witnesses.

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.

In three previous fatal police shootings in Pasco, prosecutors cleared officers with the Pasco Police Department and a sheriff's deputy who was working on a regional SWAT team.

One of the officers involved in Tuesday's shooting was a defendant in a federal civil-rights lawsuit the city settled in 2013 for $100,000, according to court records. The lawsuit claimed Pasco officers were inadequately trained in the use of force and how to respond to street confrontations.