Witness: Man killed by police told officers 'shoot me'

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Posted: Jul 02, 2015 12:07 PM
Witness: Man killed by police told officers 'shoot me'

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The man was angry. He threw rocks and scuffled with police. He yelled at them to "shoot me, kill me," before three officers opened fire, according to witnesses to the fatal shooting of the unarmed Mexican immigrant. The shooting sparked weeks of protest.

Authorities investigating the Feb. 10 death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco on Wednesday released audio files of interviews with witnesses, as well as video. A prosecutor is deciding whether the three officers who shot Zambrano-Montes should face criminal charges, a process likely to take months.

Two witnesses said Zambrano-Montes told officers to shoot him.

Witness Miguel Estrada said he saw Zambrano-Montes throw rocks at officers, then run away. In the files released by authorities, Estrada said Zambrano-Montes screamed: "'If you are gonna shoot me, shoot me.'"

Another witness, Chris Pirtle, also told authorities that Zambrano-Montes dared officers to shoot.

"He kept on throwing the rocks, and the cop was telling him, 'Hey, put down the rock,'" Pirtle said.

Zambrano-Montes — who toxicology tests showed had a large amount of methamphetamine in his system — didn't comply, witnesses said.

"He just kept telling him, 'Shoot me, kill me,'" Pirtle said.

In one audio file, witness Benjamin Patrick told investigators he yelled at officers after the man was shot.

"Why did you just shoot him?" Patrick said he shouted. "He was trying to get away. What are you guys doing?"

Patrick later said during questioning he wanted to apologize to the officers for his outburst. He did not explain why.

Authorities say the 35-year-old Zambrano-Montes had been throwing rocks at passing motorists and police, and a stun gun failed to subdue him before he was shot.

Cellphone video showed three officers chasing the man before shooting him as he turned around.

Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant issued a statement with the document release, saying he was still deciding if the three officers would be charged with any crimes.

"The right decision is more important than a quick decision," Sant said about the possibility of filing charges.

One officer, Ryan Flanagan, has resigned in a move his lawyer said was unrelated to the shooting. The other two, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz, remain on paid leave. They have not commented publicly on the shooting.

In an interview with investigators from early May, Flanagan said Zambrano-Montes repeatedly threw large rocks and objects at him and the other officers.

"Every time he would throw a rock, or both of them, he would pick up two more," Flanagan said, according to a transcript released by authorities. "It wasn't like he was gonna retreat or anything."

Flanagan said he told dispatchers "we are running out of options ... We're gonna have to increase our level of force."

Alaniz, in an interview with investigators in late April, said deploying a Taser and using verbal commands didn't stop Zambrano-Montes.

Alaniz said the man said: "Kill me, kill me."

"...he's assaulted multiple uniformed police officers, I believe at this point that my last option is to use my firearm," Alaniz said, according to the transcript.

Patrick, one of the witnesses, told investigators he saw Zambrano-Montes pick up what appeared to be a dirt clod and throw it at officers.

Patrick recalled two bursts of gunfire from the officers, even though he said Zambrano-Montes "wasn't acting very violent at that time."

Just before the second round of shots, the officers yelled at Zambrano-Montes to put down the rock, Patrick said.

"He looked like he was trying to put it down," Patrick said.

An independent autopsy commissioned by attorney Charles Herrmann, who represents Zambrano-Montes' parents, showed the man suffered seven entrance wounds, including one to his buttocks and one to the back of his right arm. The other wounds were in the front.

The officers fired a total of 17 shots.

Patrick said he was upset by the shooting because it did not appear the officers were in danger. "I think they could have done something else," he said.

Zambrano-Montes appeared to be high or drunk, he said, noting that he recognized the man as a regular in the neighborhood.

Attorney George Trejo Jr., who represents Zambrano-Montes' estranged wife and daughter, said the prosecutor's decision seems simple.

"This is not a complex case, yet the decision on this case continues to be delayed," Trejo said. "The decision to charge the officers either with first- or second-degree murder should be made now."

In other witness accounts, Mark Faith said he saw a policeman and a barefoot man fighting, then breaking apart from each other. Zambrano-Montes then picked up some rocks or dirt clods and threw them.

Faith said Zambrano-Montes did not seem to respond to commands from officers.

"He looked like he was mental or he was on something," Faith said.

Witness Idalia Hinojosa Marin said Zambrano-Montes seemed angry after officers arrived on the scene.

After one officer used a Taser, Zambrano-Montes "stood up again, looking angry, and started throwing rocks," Marin said.

Veronica Rivera also said Zambrano-Montes was not deterred by Tasers.

"Three cops were there, just on him, and they were all, 'Just shoot him, just shoot him!'" Rivera said. "And so the guy was like walking, you know, with his back to them, and all they did was just, bam-bam-bam-bam, just shot him down."

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Boone contributed from Boise, Idaho. Associated Press writers Ivan Moreno in Denver and Amy Taxin in Tustin, California, also contributed.