Slain Mexican man's family views body, seeks 'justice'

AP News
Posted: Feb 24, 2015 3:06 AM
Slain Mexican man's family views body, seeks 'justice'

PASCO, Wash. (AP) — The 60-year-old mother of an unarmed Mexican man fatally shot by police officers in Washington state fainted when she viewed her son's body for the first time, her lawyer says.

Antonio Zambrano-Montes was killed Feb. 10 in Pasco, the gunfire captured on video by a witness. The death has sparked two weeks of protests in this city along the Columbia River in the southeastern part of the state.

The victim's mother, Agapita Montes-Rivera, spoke to reporters Monday before entering a funeral home with other family members.

"I want people to understand my pain," the woman from tiny Parotita, Mexico, said through an interpreter. "It's really hard. ... When I saw the video, I felt really bad. That's why I asked for justice."

Her attorney, Benjamin Crump, said she fainted when she first saw her son's body Monday afternoon.

Authorities say Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant and former orchard worker, was throwing rocks at officers and a stun gun failed to subdue him. The Franklin County coroner has ordered an inquest into the death, which is being reviewed by a regional task force. The investigation is being monitored by federal authorities.

"We want justice; that's all we want," the victim's sister, Rosa Elena Zambrano-Montes, 28, said through an interpreter.

Crump, the high-profile attorney who represented the family of Michael Brown, a black man killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, said he'll represent Zambrano-Montes' family. Crump was in Pasco meeting with family members.

"At the heart of the matter is what's going on with what we see on that video — is it appropriate or not?" Crump, who is based in Florida, told The Associated Press.

"The No. 1 thing they said is, 'We don't want them to say that the police acted appropriately,'" said Crump, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager killed in a confrontation with neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 in that case.

In a video recording by Dario Infante Zuniga, 21, of Pasco, five "pops" are audible, and Zambrano-Montes can be seen running away, pursued by three officers. As the officers draw closer, he stops, turns around and faces them. Multiple "pops" are heard, and the man falls to the ground.

Crump said Zambrano-Montes spoke no English and was an immigrant living in the country illegally.

Felix Vargas, head of the Pasco Hispanic rights group Consejo Latino, said a Seattle-based Justice Department official met with his group Sunday. The official said meetings are planned this week with local authorities, Vargas said.

Pasco is a fast-growing agricultural city of 68,000, where more than half the residents are Hispanic but few are members of the police force or the power structure.

The killing was the fourth by Pasco police in less than a year. Officers were exonerated after similar investigations in the first three cases. Critics in the latest case say the officers should have used less than lethal force to subdue Zambrano-Montes.

"Zambrano-Montes had his hands up. Why did you have to shoot him?" Crump asked.

Police said officers felt threatened. Zambrano-Montes was arrested last year for assault after throwing objects at Pasco officers and trying to grab an officer's pistol, court records show.

Authorities have said Zambrano-Montes was not armed with a gun or knife when he was killed. Whether he had a rock in his hand when he was shot is still under investigation.

Two of the officers involved were white, and the other Hispanic. All three opened fire, though the number of shots has not been disclosed.

Last week, investigators asked for patience as the investigation continues.

Crump said the Pasco case is similar to other high-profile killings involving police officers.

"All the young people are protesting that Antonio had his hands up based on what they saw in the video, and he had no weapons," Crump said. "And just like in New York, it shows the graphic last moments of Eric Garner's life, here you have a video that shows the graphic last moments of Antonio's life."

In December, a grand jury in New York declined to indict an officer in Garner's chokehold death.

Meanwhile, another attorney who says he's representing Zambrano-Montes' family says he wants to temporarily withdraw a $25 million claim filed by Zambrano-Montes' widow and two daughters against the city after the shooting. Attorney Charles Herrmann of Tacoma said Monday the claim was premature.


Abdollah reported from Los Angeles.