The last step for an inquest to provide clarity on the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes by three Pasco police officers is done.
The Franklin County Commission has approved the last procedural detail needed for the county coroner to conduct an inquest into the 2015 shooting death next week at Columbia Basin College.
The commission signed an interlocal agreement with the college Wednesday to use the college for the judicial proceeding. The agreement places liability for any inquest-related incidents on the county, which is covered by its existing liability insurance policy.
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel intends to seat a jury from a pool of 75 Franklin County residents on Dec. 12, he said. The formal inquest will take place Dec. 13-15.
Michael J. Fox, a retired King County Superior Court judge, will present evidence to the inquest jury on the coroner’s behalf.
A coroner’s inquest is a judicial proceeding to present evidence about a death. The jury can reach conclusions and make recommendations to the county prosecutor.
“It’s a means to uncover the facts of the death for the general public,” Blasdel said in August, noting it’s important no circumstances are “overlooked, sealed or ignored.”
In an inquest, evidence is presented to a jury. The jury’s conclusions are not binding on prosecutors, but the public nature of the quasi-judicial proceeding may help shed light on the circumstances leading to the death of Zambrano-Montes, 35, who died Feb. 10, 2015, after being shot at 17 times by Pasco police officers Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz.
Zambrano-Montes, a farm worker from Mexico, was high on methamphetamine at the time of his death and had been throwing rocks at passing vehicles near Fiesta Foods in Pasco.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant declined to prosecute, saying the evidence did not show the officers acted with malice, the legal standard to convict law enforcement in Washington. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson agreed with Sant’s conclusion after a review ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee. Michael Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, came to a similar conclusion.
Zambrano-Montes’ parents and widow filed separate federal lawsuits against Pasco in federal court. His parents indicated they would seek $4.76 million in a claim filed with the city in advance of the lawsuit while his widow seeks more than $35 million in damages.
Wednesday, attorneys representing the police officers asked a King County judge to quash a subpoena requiring them to testify at the inquest. Blasdel said it would be unusual if the motion is granted. But if it is, Blasdel said the inquest jury will view videotaped depositions from the investigation that followed the incident.
Blasdel issued subpoenas to about a dozen witnesses, including the three officers, the forensic pathologist who handled the autopsy, a state evidence technician and others.
The shooting sparked protests in the Latino community, which drew parallels to unrelated police shootings of unarmed minorities elsewhere in the country.
It prompted Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger to invite the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, to review the city’s relationship with the community after the incident.
In its August report, COPS said Pasco needs to better train its officers in the use of force and to actively recruit a more diverse police force that includes more Hispanics, women and Spanish speakers.