By Eric M. Johnson
KENNEWICK, Wash. (Reuters) - The family of a Mexican farm worker killed by police in Washington state after he pelted them with rocks has asked for an independent autopsy into his death, county officials said on Thursday.
The family's request comes amid ongoing protests over the Feb. 10 death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, a small city of about 68,000 residents that is heavily Hispanic but controlled by a largely white power structure.
"The family has requested that a second autopsy come in, and we are certainly going to allow that to happen," Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Sant told reporters in neighboring Kennewick.
Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old orchard worker from Mexico's Michoacan state, was likely unarmed when he was shot dead by three officers at whom he had thrown rocks before fleeing in an incident captured on video, police said.
In Pasco, some 200 miles (320 km) southeast of Seattle, demonstrators have accused the police department of overly aggressive tactics when dealing with the Hispanic community, many of whom immigrated to the area to work as farm laborers.
The killing of Zambrano-Montes marked the fourth fatal police shooting in Pasco in six months, and it has been compared to two high-profile police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City. In both those incidents, the white police officers involved were not charged.
Pasco police said officers opened fire after Zambrano-Montes ignored commands to surrender and a stun gun failed to subdue him. The officers, including one who is Hispanic, were placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
An initial autopsy has already been completed, although it will take six to eight weeks to receive the toxicology results, Franklin County coroner Dan Blasdel said.
The results could be made public during an inquest into the incident, ordered by Blasdel, in which a panel will be asked to make a preliminary determination on whether the killing was justified. A prosecutor will then decide whether to pursue charges.
The family's request for an independent autopsy came in on Thursday, Blasdel said, adding it would be paid for by the family, who would choose their own pathologist. Zambrano-Montes' body has not been released.
Kennewick Police Sergeant Ken Lattin, a spokesman for a special unit investigating the incident, said none of the three officers involved in the shooting were wearing body cameras, though their patrol cars were equipped with sound-recording dashboard cameras.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)