PASCO, Wash. (AP) — The leader of a Hispanic group in an agricultural city in Washington is asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate last week's fatal police shooting of an orchard worker who ran from officers after reportedly throwing rocks at them.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Felix Vargas, the chairman of Consejo Latino, argues that an investigation by a regional special investigations unit will have "no credibility whatsoever," the Tri-City Herald reported (http://is.gd/a6s2UM ).
The unit has exonerated officers in reviews of three other recent police shootings in Pasco, Vargas noted. The special investigations unit, made up of four law enforcement agencies, does not include officers from Pasco, but its members could nevertheless feel pressure to exonerate local colleagues, he suggested.
Consejo Latino is made up mostly of Hispanic business leaders in this southeastern Washington city of about 68,000.
The evening of the shooting, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, reportedly was throwing rocks at cars and police at a busy intersection in Pasco.
Police said the rocks hit two officers and that Zambrano-Montes refused to put down other stones. They also said a stun gun failed to subdue him.
In cellphone video from a witness, several "pops" are audible just before Zambrano-Montes is seen running across a street, pursued by three officers. As he stops and turns around, gunshots ring out, and he falls dead.
"In all, about 15 rounds were fired in a very congested area during rush hour," Vargas wrote. "Having mortally wounded him, the police proceeded to handcuff this dying man without rendering aid or even checking his pulse."
Police have said the officers felt threatened by Zambrano-Montes' behavior.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Spokane said Tuesday he could not comment, but noted that the FBI has said it will monitor the investigation.
Kennewick Police Sgt. Ken Lattin, a spokesman for the special unit investigating the shooting, said federal or state officials would be welcome to review the findings afterward, but that the homicide investigation itself should be left to police.
"There's nobody else who investigates homicides, we are the best at that," he said. "There's nothing wrong with having oversight, but the investigation part is done by us."
The officers are required to conduct the investigation fairly, Lattin said.
"We're not going to put our careers on the line for anybody," he said. "If it's determined somebody made a mistake, they will be held accountable."
Vargas' letter also points out that one of the three officers involved, Ryan Flanagan, was accused in 2009 of using excessive force and racially profiling a 30-year-old Hispanic woman. Flanagan and another officer caused second-degree burns by holding the woman's face to the hot hood of a police car, the lawsuit alleged. Pasco settled the case for $100,000.
Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com