The people of Pasco do not trust that their police officers will protect them, the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs heard Friday evening in Pasco.
More than 100 people showed up for a community forum at Columbia Basin College and had no shortage of comments in the aftermath of the Feb. 10 police shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, was shot at 17 times by three Pasco officers after police say he threw at least one rock in their direction. The Mexican national, who was an orchard worker in the Mid-Columbia, died on the sidewalk on Lewis Street across from Fiesta Foods in Pasco.
Many speakers were unhappy with the perceived attitude of police officials, the treatment of witnesses and the pace and fairness of the investigation into the shooting. They called for more respect from Pasco officers toward the people they serve and better training for officers.
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“It appears that to the Pasco police the only solution to a problem is to shoot the person and as many times as possible,” said Randy Slovic of Richland.
The issue affects all of the Tri-Cities, she said. In less than a year, Pasco police killed four people or one for every 17,000 residents, a grim statistic she has not found matched anywhere in the nation.
“What is going to happen if they get another pass?” she asked.
A woman speaking in Spanish said — through an English interpreter — that people who need help in Pasco, such as a woman who is being battered, will not call police for fear of what could happen to them at the hands of officers.
If the officers involved in the shooting, who now are on paid administrative leave, return to duty, they must receive more training or they will be a threat to the community, she said.
Antonio Valero, of Pasco, who has started a group called Citizens Opposing Police Shootings, said, “The community does not feel safe.”
Another woman, who did not give her name, said she lives just six blocks from the shooting and heard the sirens that night. She has not stopped crying since seeing the videos witnesses posted of the shooting, she said, tearing up.
The first police statements about Zambrano-Montes were derogatory, she said. They talked about him being a meth addict, and undocumented immigant and that he had mental health issues.
Police need training to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation, she said.
Rick Rios of Consejo Latino said the perception out there is that the police say Mr. Zambrano was a bad man and he deserved to be killed.
“In this case, the only people being treated as criminals are the witnesses and Mr. Zambrano,” he said.
Ben Patrick said he, his wife and three children were at Fiesta Foods and saw the confrontation between police and Zambrano-Montes.
He believed he had important evidence to share, but police told him multiple times that if he did not leave he would be put in jail, he said. The next day when he kept his children home from school — on the advice of police — he was threatened with a visit from Child Protective Services.
His interview with police lasted just 10 minutes, he said.
Friday night, Patrick described Zambrano-Montes being told to freeze or police would shoot.
“He froze, they shot,” he said. “It was a miracle no one else was shot.”
Geraldo Trejo frequently visits the bakery that Zambrano-Montes was shot in front of across the street from Fiesta Foods. If he had been there that night, his child might have been shot, he said.
“This investigation is a lie, a complete lie, a farce,” Trejo said, speaking through an interpreter. “I’d like to see a federal-level investigation.”
The Pasco police force has been militarized, said Ana Cecilia Lopez, saying that was something she was familiar with coming from a violent country and growing up in a time of civil war.
“There is a big difference dealing with an armed robbery and a man with a rock,” she said.
Bertha Glatt said she was glad to see the Pasco city manager at the Friday meeting. When she talked with city staff about the ethnic makeup of Pasco officials a year ago, she was told it did a fine job of representing the Tri-City demographic.
But Glatt was not talking about the Tri-Cities, she said. She was talking about Pasco, where the population is more than half Hispanic.
There were some comments in support of police.
The Pasco police force has good and bad officers, and not all officers should be blamed for the actions of a few, some speakers said.
Pasco can move past this, perhaps with better training for officers who face stressful situations, said Jacquelyn Ochoa, age 17. She’d like to see people work together for a better community.
The Commission on Hispanic Affairs will continue its listening session March 28. It is a nonpartisan committee appointed by the governor. Under state law, the board advises the governor’s office, legislators and other leaders about the decisions that impact the Latino community, whether positive or negative.