SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state man was holding a large rock and drew back his arm as if he was going to throw it when police officers opened fire and killed him, one of the officers said in a recording released Wednesday.
Pasco Police Officer Adam Wright said he decided to shoot because he feared officers or members of the public would be injured or killed by the rock wielded by 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a Mexican national.
"I had a clear shot and I decided to take it," Wright said in a May 8 interview with authorities investigating the shooting.
The recording and documents in the case were released by Franklin County authorities in response to public records requests by The Associated Press and other media. Other documents and recordings were released last week.
The killing of Zambrano-Montes on Feb. 10 was captured on video and sparked weeks of protests in the central Washington city of 68,000 residents.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant is deciding whether the three officers who shot Zambrano-Montes should face criminal charges.
The three officers fired a total of 17 shots at Zambrano-Montes, striking him seven times.
Wright told investigators that he watched Zambrano-Montes throw one large rock at officers that missed and then transfer another rock from his left to his right hand.
"He's reloading into his throwing hand," Wright recalled thinking. "I was not willing to let him continue threatening us."
Wright said he fired twice and believed both bullets struck Zambrano-Montes. But the former orchard worker continued walking, with three officers in pursuit.
Zambrano-Montes stopped again, turned toward the officers and cocked his arm in a throwing motion, Wright told investigators.
"It was clear to me he was going to throw the rock," Wright said.
Wright shot again multiple times, and the other two officers also fired, and Zambrano-Montes dropped to the ground. A rock lying next to his body weighed 2.8 pounds, investigators found.
In the documents released last week, police and eyewitnesses described Zambrano-Montes repeatedly yelling at officers to shoot him. Toxicology reports also showed he had a large amount of methamphetamine in his system.
Authorities contend 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.
One officer, Ryan Flanagan, has resigned in a move his lawyer has said was unrelated to the shooting. The other two, Wright and Adrian Alaniz, remain on paid leave.
Flanagan and Alaniz also said in previously released documents that they felt they had little choice but to shoot.
Attorney George Trejo Jr., who represents Zambrano-Montes' estranged wife and daughter, has said the prosecutor should charge the officers immediately with either first- or second-degree murder.
In another audio file, the shooting victim's aunt Angelita Zambrano told investigators her nephew had broken both his hands after falling from a ladder in a farm field.
He was depressed and in a lot of pain because of the injury, she said. Still, he told her two days before he was shot that he planned to start work again the following week.
"Why did they kill him like that when they had other options?" she asked investigators. "He wasn't going to kill them with rocks."
The Tri-City Herald reported Wednesday that police interviews with several relatives of Zambrano-Montes portrayed him as a troubled soul.
Those interviews detailed his bouts with depression and drug abuse, several suicide attempts and violent run-ins with Pasco police in recent years, the newspaper reported.
He had been drinking heavily and using methamphetamine more often since his wife left for California with their two daughters several years ago, the newspaper said, citing the family.
His mental state had deteriorated so severely that his family wanted to take the orchard worker back to his parents' remote village in Michoacan state, Mexico, to get his life back on track, the newspaper reported.
No one answered the telephone Wednesday when the AP called the law office of Benjamin Crump, who represents the parents of Zambrano-Montes.
Associated Press reporter Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.