Officials expect the special investigation into the fatal shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes to be completed within weeks, opening the door for the Franklin County prosecutor to begin his review.
Authorities are waiting on reports to be transcribed and other reports from the state crime lab to be finished before the case can be handed over, said Sgt. Ken Lattin, spokesman for the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit.
Officials have said little about the investigation since a Feb. 25 news conference for fear of tainting a potential jury pool.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, was shot Feb. 10 after police said he hurled at least one rock at three Pasco officers. Portions of the encounter were captured on cellphone video, including the moment Zambrano-Montes was killed in front of a cafe.
Although the independent investigation by a team of Tri-City police is nearing an end, it could be much longer before prosecutors decide whether to charge the officers.
Once the investigation is done, Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant will review a mountain of evidence to prepare for a special inquest called by the county Coroner Dan Blasdel.
Sant will present evidence during the inquest to a jury of six civilians, who will then make recommendations on whether the shooting was justifiable.
The jury, which will be selected from a pool like any other criminal or civil trial, also is to decide the cause and manner of death. Sant will review the decision before he decides if charges are warranted.
Inquests are not common in this area or other parts of the state, but Blasdel has said he believes it will help ensure transparency for the public.
“I would like to have it as soon as possible, but with that being said, it could be until June,” Blasdel said.
The case — with more than 40 witnesses, a slew of reports and pages of transcripts to sift through — is larger than prosecutors are accustomed to and will take time more time to review, Sant said.
Prosecutors will prepare for the inquest like they would a trial and may ask for witnesses to be re-interviewed, which could delay the process more.
Complicating matters even more is Sant is set to handle a murder trial in May.
Sant said he does not have an estimate for when the inquest could take place or when his decision could be made.
“I will have a much better assessment once I receive the reports,” he said. “Not knowing when the reports will be forwarded to our office makes it difficult.”
Pasco community group Consejo Latino has asked state officials to replace Sant with a special prosecutor. The group and its chairman Felix Vargas wrote a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee expressing concerns over Sant’s ability to remain impartial.
Inslee denied request, saying it is the prosecutor’s right and obligation to review cases in Franklin County.
Sant, in a letter addressing recent community meetings in Pasco, wrote that he will review the shooting like any other homicide that comes before him.
“Many people have contacted me demanding that I take action based on what was viewed in those videos,” Sant wrote. “While the video evidence is important to the investigation, a final decision will not be made until I have had the opportunity to review all available information.”