A former Kennewick city employee was illegally fired after speaking out against the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes and refusing to give authorities a cellphone used to record the seconds leading up to the police shooting, according to a claim filed Tuesday.
Mark Faith was fired March 3 from his job as a building inspector, three weeks after he captured the early part of a confrontation between Zambrano-Montes, 35, and Pasco police on video, the claim said.
The 34-second video was shot from Faith’s car on 10th Avenue and was published Tuesday to YouTube.
It shows Zambrano-Montes facing off with two officers in a lot across the street from where he was killed. Three officers fired 17 shots at Zambrano-Montes shortly after the video ends. Police officials say he threw rocks at the police officers.
A letter given to Faith stated several reasons for his firing, including lying to police during an investigation. Other reasons included violating the city’s safety policy, not cooperating with co-workers, and showing up late or leaving early for work.
The $150,000 claim filed against the city of Kennewick says it was Faith’s unwillingness to hand over the phone without a warrant and that he told detectives the shooting was unjust that ultimately led to him being fired.
The claim was filed by attorney Charles Herrmann, of the Herrmann-Scholbe law firm, who is also representing the widow and two daughters of Zambrano-Montes.
“There’s no question that his discharge emanated out of this whole incident,” Herrmann told the Herald.
Faith told co-workers he witnessed the shooting and police contacted him a few days after, the claim said. He gave an interview to Kennewick Detective Michael Weatherbee, telling the investigator the shooting was unwarranted.
Faith played the video for Weatherbee and agreed to send it to him by email, the claim said. He realized the video was too large to send by email and saved it to a home computer and thumb drive.
Faith was having issues with his cellphone during this time and called Verizon for technical support, the claim said.
A Verizon employee instructed Faith to reset his phone, which erased all of his data including the video, the claim said. He again met with Weatherbee and provided him with the thumb drive containing the video. However, Weatherbee also wanted his cellphone.
Faith told the detective he was not comfortable giving him his phone because of all the personal data on it.
Weatherbee then got a warrant and got the phone from Faith while he was at work, the claim said. A few days later, Faith met with Weatherbee and Detective Brian Pochert and Faith was accused of “wiping” the phone clean. Faith denied erasing the data on purpose and told the detectives it was because of the reset.
Faith was fired from his job a little more than a week after the final meeting with police
Police are investigating Faith for criminal charges related to the case, said Sgt. Ken Lattin, Kennewick police spokesman. Possible charges will be reviewed by the city attorney’s office.
Lattin did not want to talk about the case further because it is an ongoing investigation. City Attorney Lisa Beaton was not available to talk about the claim or any potential charges.
In the letter given to Faith, Corey Osborn, director of human resources, writes that one of the reasons for the firing was because Faith demonstrated a lack of cooperation with Kennewick police.
“You also provided untruthful information during the course of an official police investigation when you stated you sent your cellular phone to Verizon for repairs although it in fact remained in your possession at all times,” Osborn wrote.
Faith decided he did not want to talk about his firing or the investigation because he fears retaliation from police, Herrmann said.
“He is fearful that they might escalate the situation by criminally charging him,” Herrmann said.
Faith was hired by the city in October and was on a year-long probation period.
He previously worked as a building inspector in Franklin County and ran for the county’s District 1 commissioner’s seat in 2012. He lost the election to Commissioner Brad Peck.
There was controversy about Faith’s candidacy because he rented a room in a friend’s house in Pasco shortly before the election in order to be eligible to run for the position, according to Herald archives.
The city listed five reasons for deciding to fire Faith, which were outlined in the letter.
Faith violated the safety policy twice by talking on his cellphone and not wearing his seat belt while in a city vehicle, the letter said. He was also talked to during the same time period about excessive cellphone use.
Faith was talked to in February about his “lack of cooperation” with co-workers and lack of “timely and appropriate documentation,” the letter said. That same month a supervisor spoke to him about arriving for work late and leaving early.
Faith was again counseled about his lack of cooperation with fellow building inspectors, the letter said.
Herrmann says Faith refutes nearly everything in the letter.
Besides the seat belt infraction, all of the items listed in the letter are either incorrect, distorted or outright lies, the claim said.
“In reality, the reasons listed in the letter of termination are nothing more than thinly veiled pretexts for taking retaliatory action against Mr. Faith because he initially reported and provided evidence of an unjustified killing by Pasco police officers, and subsequently he insisted upon protecting his rights of privacy and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures,” Herrmann wrote.