The Franklin County coroner’s inquest into last month’s shooting of a Mexican immigrant by three Pasco police officers is expected to take twice as long and cost twice as much as originally planned.
The review, called by Coroner Dan Blasdel, will take two weeks. Blasdel told county commissioners Monday that he initially thought it would take four or five days, but Prosecutor Shawn Sant told him it would take longer.
The extra time means the inquest will cost an estimated $10,000, up from $5,000, Blasdel said.
“The inquests in the past have run about $1,000 a day,” Blasdel said.
Blasdel said he hopes the inquest could start by May 1, but he must wait until the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit completes its initial probe.
The inquest allows a jury of six civilians to determine the cause and manner of death in the Feb. 10 shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35. The jury also will determine if the shooting is justified.
The primary expenses for the inquest are for paying a bailiff and court reporter and transportation for witnesses, Blasdel said. He has called two inquests before, which lasted four days each.
Commissioners approved Blasdel’s request, taking the money from his office’s budget for autopsies, with plans to reinstate the autopsy money if needed. But they questioned why he has to do the inquest.
The inquest will provide information to Sant while he considers whether to press charges against the officers, Blasdel said.
“It also brings the investigation and the facts, and makes it transparent to the public,” he said.
The information in the investigation would become public record once turned over to Sant, Commission Chairman Brad Peck said. But he later agreed that the hearings could shed light on the methods used in the case.
Peck, who attended Monday’s Pasco City Council meeting, was impressed by the calm way demonstrators and council members discussed the issue, he said.
“People made their points, and did so in a firm, but respectful, way,” Peck said. “It was very different than what we’ve seen in the rest of the country.”
The number of witnesses called in the inquest will be up to Sant, Blasdel said. Sant will have 60 days to put the case together after the SIU turns it over to him.
The investigation is not expected to be turned over to Sant’s office for several weeks, said Kennewick Police Sgt. Ken Lattin, spokesman for SIU.
The selection process for jurors will be similar to that of a trial, Blasdel said. The county clerk’s office will summon potential jurors to the courthouse.
One difference will be that, with no defense attorney involved, Blasdel and Sant will narrow the pool to six jurors and one alternate, Blasdel said.
Also Wednesday, commissioners:
• Showed support for the purchase of a new dehumidifier to replace a failing unit at the TRAC event center. They are expected to approve the purchase next week of a $54,885 dehumidifier from Cimco Refrigeration. Apollo is expected to remove the old unit and put in the new one for an additional $28,750.
• Were told by Peck that a planned vote next week on creating a regional dispatch system will be delayed because Benton County commissioners have said they should have more votes than the other involved entities, as that county pays more into the system. A steering committee of representatives from the entities looked into how much each one pays, and determined that Benton County’s contributions aren’t much different than the others when grants for dealing with Hanford and chemical stockpile emergencies are taken out.
The Kennewick, Pasco and Richland city councils approved joining the dispatch system, leaving only the two county governments to approve it.