By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Police and Latino leaders in Washington state will soon come together for federally mediated talks over the police killing of a rock-throwing Mexican immigrant that has sparked community outrage and distrust, and inspired comparisons to other recent police slayings.
Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant, was shot dead by three Pasco police officers last month after he pelted them with rocks and then fled in a confrontation captured on video.
His death on Feb. 10 triggered steady protests in a Latino majority farming community about 200 miles southeast of Seattle that have likened the incident to recent police slayings of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York.
A Seattle official from the U.S. Justice Department's conciliation service, which holds no prosecutorial power in the case, will hold confidential talks next week with Pasco Police Department and Latino community leaders, Police Chief Bob Metzger said in a statement on Tuesday.
Metzger said he was uncertain of any possible outcomes from the meetings but the department was "open to any suggestions or positive outcomes that come from this conciliation."
"We welcome this dialogue and are looking forward to learning about and working on the issues that may come out of this," Metzger said.
The killing marked the fourth fatal police shooting in seven months in a community of 68,000 residents that is more than half Hispanic and where the police force is disproportionately white.
Zambrano-Montes, an out-of-work orchard worker, spoke little English and wrestled with drug use and personal tragedy, including a house fire that left him homeless, in the months before the incident.
"What we hope to gain is honesty," Rick Rios of the advocacy group Consejo Latino, one of area groups attending the talks, told local broadcaster KING 5. "There is conflict between our group and what we believe to be shortcomings on the police force's side."
The group has questioned whether a local investigation, conducted by officers from neighboring cities, will be objective. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and a U.S. attorney in Washington state are monitoring that inquiry, which does not include members of Pasco's police department.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Lisa Lambert)