The attorney representing the family of a Mexican national shot by three Pasco police officers has asked Gov. Jay Inslee to reconsider appointing a special prosecutor to review the case for potential criminal charges.
Attorney George P. Trejo Jr. of Yakima said the video footage of the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, results of the autopsy, the actions of the Franklin County prosecutor and coroner, and the need to restore public trust in the justice system demonstrate the need for an independent prosecutor.
“This amounted to nothing short of a cold blood killing by bloodthirsty officers,” the letter said. “There should be no doubt in any reasonable mind but that charges should be filed. At a minimum, an independent prosecutor should be appointed to make that determination.”
Trejo took issue with Inslee’s previous denial of a request from a Pasco Latino activist group. Inslee told Consejo Latino chairman Felix Vargas last month that while he was “deeply troubled” by the shooting, prosecutors have a moral obligation and legal duty to prosecute crimes in their jurisdictions unless there are “specific, tangible and compelling reasons” to do otherwise.
Inslee said he was not confident those reasons had been met, but Trejo argued that there is reason to remove Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant, as well as Coroner Dan Blasdel, who is planning an inquest into the cause and manner of Zambrano-Montes’ death. He urged Inslee to watch a 23-second video of the shooting on YouTube.
“It is a graphic killing by three officers acting as thugs, shooting wildly toward a gas station where citizens in the community are endangered,” Trejo said. “All the while, Mr. Zambrano is unarmed without any weapons.”
Trejo represents Zambrano-Montes’ widow and two of his daughters, ages 15 and 13.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, was shot Feb. 10 after police said he hurled at least one rock at three Pasco officers.
Consejo Latino had asked state officials to replace Sant with a special prosecutor, expressing concerns over Sant’s ability to remain impartial.
Sant is potentially biased because he is a representative of the state and a party to the criminal case, Trejo said.
“The appearance of fairness doctrine, in our judgment, applies to the prosecutor once an adversary proceeding has commenced,” he said. “We further suggest that, in an abundance of caution, the prosecutor and his office should have considered yielding the prosecution of the case to another prosecuting attorney’s office or to the office of the Attorney General or the Department of Justice.”
Trejo also questions whether Blasdel should be involved further in the case. He said the inquest would exceed the scope of the coroner’s authority under state law because the circumstances of Zambrano-Montes’ death already have been determined.
The evidence leaves no question that criminal charges should be brought against the officers, but Blasdel has had difficulty making a decision, Trejo said.
“Let there be no mistake about it, we do not believe an inquest is necessary,” he said. “It is our belief that the coroner has exceeded the scope of the law in ordering an inquest.”
The request made Monday differed from the one from Consejo Latino, which Trejo said was an emotional appeal to the governor. He said his letter is more of a legal document.
“No disrespect to what Vargas and his group did, but that was, quite frankly, a letter without any legal authority behind it,” Trejo told the Herald. “Whereas, here, we’ve got more substance, more specific reasons as to why he should act.”
Inslee has seen Trejo’s letter, spokesman David Postman said. He is planning a formal response, which should be out by the end of the week.
“He has been disturbed by what he saw,” Postman said. “He obviously has the ability to intervene at any point in the process, or ask the attorney general to intervene.”
An independent investigation by a team of Tri-City police is nearing its end, but officials have said it could be much longer before prosecutors decide if the officers should be charged.
Sant will review evidence to prepare for Blasdel’s inquest once the investigation is complete.