A Pasco man shot dead by police Tuesday night as witnesses recorded the incident with their cellphones had battled depression after being separated from his two teen daughters, his family said.
Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, was an orchard worker raised in Michoacan, Mexico, didn’t speak English well and had lived in Pasco for the last decade or so.
He was rescued from a burning house fire by two city workers late last month and had injured himself recently in a fall at work. In spite of that string of bad luck, family members said they weren’t aware of any mental health issues.
“He was a kind person, family-oriented,” said Blanca Zambrano, his cousin. “He was hardworking.”
Zambrano-Montes did have a history of erratic behavior, according to court documents. He was convicted of assault in 2014 after a confrontation with Pasco police, who tried to stop him from hitting cars with a broom. He threw a rocking chair and tried to grab an officer’s gun from his belt while under the influence of methamphetamine.
Zambrano-Montes was throwing rocks at cars about 5 p.m. Tuesday near Fiesta Foods when police were called. He hit two officers with rocks and refused to listen to commands, Police Chief Bob Metzger said.
Police gave him orders to surrender and unsuccessfully tried using a Taser. The officers chased him across the intersection of 10th Avenue and Lewis Street and eventually shot him in front of a business on Lewis Street.
The shooting was captured on video by bystanders and caused outrage and protests in the city Wednesday. Several graphic videos have been posted to YouTube and viewed thousands of times.
The Zambrano family told the Herald police were out of line when they shot him and should have used less-lethal force to get him under control.
“We just want justice,” said Erica Salazar, a family member. “It could have been avoided.”
Chief defends officers
At a news conference Wednesday, Metzger backed the three officers involved in the shooting — Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz.
Metzger revealed few details about Zambrano-Montes’ death and told reporters it could be months before police officials talk about the case again.
“We always stand behind our officers unless they are proven (wrong),” Metzger said. “We are at this point doing a thorough investigation. If the officers are wrong they will be dealt with accordingly. If they are not wrong, that will also come out.”
It was the fourth deadly police shooting in Pasco in the last six months. Pasco officers have fired the fatal shots in three of the cases; the fourth involved a Benton County deputy during a SWAT standoff.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington released a statement Wednesday calling the shooting “disturbing.”
“Fleeing from police and not following an officer’s command should not be sufficient for a person to get shot. Lethal force should be used only as an absolute last resort,” ACLU Executive Director Kathleen Taylor said. “Police need to understand how to de-escalate confrontations and use force only as necessary.”
Metzger would not talk about the incident in detail, telling reporters his department has been removed from the case and he wants to respect the investigation by local law enforcement officials.
The Tri-City Special Investigative Unit is looking into the shooting and the Franklin County prosecutor will ultimately determine if the officers were justified. Officers have been cleared within the last year in four other fatal shootings, which left four men dead.
The chief would not discuss his officers’ decision to fire on Zambrano-Montes at the crowded intersection with dozens of people stuck in traffic and others outside at a nearby grocery store parking lot.
Metzger didn’t know if a weapon was found at the scene, how many times Zambrano-Montes was shot or which of the three officers fired, he said.
Flanagan is a nine-year veteran of the department. Wright has been with the department for eight years and is a firearms instructor. Alaniz has been there two years.
Flanagan and another officer were accused in 2009 of racial profiling and excessive force for pressing the face of a 30-year-old Hispanic woman onto the hot hood of a police car as they detained her. Her lawyer said she didn’t speak English well and had trouble communicating with the officers. She suffered second-degree burns and the city settled a lawsuit for $100,000.
Trouble with the law
In 2006, Teresa D. Meraz Ruiz filed for a protection order for herself and the couple’s two young daughters due to Zambrano-Montes’ “volatile behavior,” according to court documents.
She said he threatened to kill her many times, physically abused her, and pulled a knife and gun on her during their nine-year relationship. The daughters live in California with their mom.
Zambrano-Montes was arrested in the past week on a warrant for failing to pay his fine and court costs for his 2014 assault case, appearing Monday in Franklin County Superior Court.
Court records show Zambrano-Montes had no other criminal history aside from that case.
Police had been called to North Eighth Avenue and West Bonneville Street at 10:49 p.m. on Jan. 16, 2014, for reports of a man walking around and hitting cars with a broom. Zambrano-Montes was found “making a commotion” on the front porch of a North Seventh Avenue home, according to court documents.
He picked up a rocking chair and tried to throw it at Officer Adam Brewster, then grabbed a mailbox and post and threw those. Brewster had to duck to avoid being hit in the head.
Zambrano-Montes ran from Brewster and Officer Jeffrey Cobb, then turned around, grabbed onto Brewster’s belt and put his hand around the officer’s service pistol, documents said. Brewster tried head-butting Zambrano-Montes in the right temple to incapacitate him, but it had no visible effect.
Zambrano-Montes was taken to the ground and continued to struggle with the two officers while grabbing onto Brewster’s pistol in an attempt to get it out of the holster, documents said. Cobb then shot him with a Taser and they were able to handcuff him.
He was taken to Lourdes Medical Center, where he reportedly admitted in the emergency room that he’d been using methamphetamines, documents said.
He pleaded guilty in June, acknowledging that his actions were not in self-defense, and was sentenced to six months in county jail. The standard range for the crime is three to nine months.