Prosecutor: Decision soon in Pasco police shooting case

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PASCO — A decision is expected soon in the case of an unarmed Mexican man who was shot to death by Pasco police in February.

Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant said Thursday he expects to announce within the next two weeks whether to criminally charge three Pasco police officers in the shooting.

“No longer than two weeks,” he told the Tri-City Herald.

Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, was throwing rocks at motorists and police when he was shot several times and killed on Feb. 10. The death of the orchard worker was captured on cellphone video that was widely viewed and sparked months of protests in Pasco and drew outrage from as far away as Mexico.

Zambrano-Montes, a Mexican national who was living here illegally, was high on methamphetamine when he was shot in front of a cafe after running from the officers across a busy intersection. The officers fired a total of 17 shots, striking him seven times.

If the decision is reached within the next two weeks, Sant will announce it ahead of a planned inquest called by county Coroner Dan Blasdel.

Blasdel is looking for a venue to hold the inquest, a rare fact-finding proceeding. It allows a civilian jury to determine the cause of death, and make a recommendation on whether the shooting was justified.

The coroner wants to hold the inquest, which is expected to last at least two weeks and could involve dozens of witnesses, in order to ensure the case is transparent to the public.

But Sant and lawyers for the widow and the family of Zambrano-Montes are against an inquest. They say the proceedings are unnecessary because it’s clear who killed Zambrano-Montes and the manner in which he died.

Sant has said for months that he believes an inquest is pointless. He will focus his legal review on the evidence of the case and won’t give much weight to recommendations made by a potential inquest jury, he said.

“I haven’t changed my position on whether or not an inquest is necessary,” Sant said. “I still don’t think an inquest will assist in (gathering) any more information related to the death.”

Charles Herrmann, a Seattle-area attorney helping to represent the family of Zambrano-Montes, agreed the inquest would be a waste of time.

“The devil is in the details sometimes, but I don’t think there is any big mystery here. It isn’t a detective story,” Herrmann said. “The primary issue will boil down to a judgment of what kind of threat did Antonio represent or not represent at the time he was shot.”

Yakima attorney George P. Trejo Jr., who is representing Zambrano-Montes’ widow and the couple’s two daughters, is also not in favor of an inquest.

“The video of the killing has been seen millions of times,” Trejo wrote in an email. “There is no dispute that Antonio was shot and killed by the officers. So what is the inquest going to prove?”