A retired trial court judge from Seattle has agreed to present evidence at a coroner’s inquest into the fatal shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes by three Pasco police officers.
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel has contracted with Michael J. Fox, who served on the King County Superior Court, to present evidence in the oft-delayed inquest.
Blasdel expects the inquest to begin Dec. 12 at Columbia Basin College, he said.
The most recent delay occurred after an unnamed local attorney backed out of a commitment to present evidence, citing a legal conflict and possible sanctions by the Washington State Bar Association.
The Franklin County Commission is expected to vote to approve a $35,000 request by Blasdel to pay for Fox’s services as a special deputy coroner during the inquest.
Fox’s role will be to interview witnesses, review investigative reports, question witnesses and examine jurors called to the inquest. He will be paid $225 per hour, with travel and accommodations paid by the county.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, died after being shot at 17 times by three Pasco officers in February 2015. He had been throwing rocks at passing cars and was high on methamphetamine when he was killed.
Blasdel announced plans for an inquest only four days later. The inquest jury can draw conclusions and make recommendations, but those recommendations are not binding on prosecutors.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant declined to prosecute the officers, saying there was no evidence to suggest the officers acted with malice, the legal threshold to convict officers in fatal shootings.
Sant’s decision was recently upheld by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who reviewed the decision at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee. Michael Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, also declined to file charges.
Both Sant and Ormsby said the evidence did not support convictions.
Critics say the Washington law makes it nearly impossible to convict officers of crimes and has sparked an initiative campaign to change the law.
After the Zambrano incident, Pasco Police Chief Robert Metzger invited the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Police Services to review the city’s relationship with the community.
The DOJ recently released a report saying the police department needs to recruit a more diverse work force that includes Hispanics, women and Spanish speakers and to improve training in the use of force.