The chair of local Hispanic community group Consejo Latino again called for a full review of the Pasco Police Department while speaking this week in front of a federal commission on civil rights.
Felix Vargas spoke about the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, and perceived systemic problems within the department at the daylong conference in New York City.
The conference, which was also attended by Pasco police Chief Bob Metzger, brought together officials and community members from across the nation to discuss police practices and use of force.
Vargas told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that there are serious deficiencies within the department that need to be fixed. If the problems aren’t fixed, the city will face a long and difficult road to finding solutions, he said.
“This review must include a look at the police culture, which includes the values, policies and procedures, training, behavior and recruitment, and selection of officers,” Vargas said in his speech. “I can assure you these are all areas for improvement in Pasco.”
Metzger adamantly denies there are any systemic problems within the Pasco department or any disconnect with the large Hispanic population in Pasco.
The chief — who has previously stated his initial reaction to video of the shooting “wasn’t good” — says he welcomes any possible review by the Department of Justice.
Zambrano-Montes was shot Feb. 10 during a confrontation with three Pasco police officers — Adam Wright, Adrian Alaniz and Ryan Flanagan — after he allegedly threw rocks near the intersection of 10th Avenue and Lewis Street.
The shooting, which was captured on video, has gained national media attention and led to months of protests in Pasco. Vargas and others have called for the officers to be charged with murder.
A team of local police from around the Tri-Cities is investigating the incident and will turn its report over to Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant, who will decide if criminal charges should be filed.
Metzger appeared on a panel at the conference to answer questions and discuss police practices. The chief says he talked little about the Pasco shooting and more about forming solutions to hot-button national issues like dealing with the mentally ill and training of officers.
The chief will continue to look at ways to better train officers, though it’s unclear at the moment what the best training method for the future looks like, he said.
“We expect a lot from officers today. They are supposed to know everything,” Metzger said. “How much training can you give everybody? I don’t have an answer.”
Pasco police officials will continue to review the best ways to improve the department of 71 officers, Metzger said. The chief and others in the department stand behind current officers’ training, which has come into question.
“Everybody is trying to improve. We are always revising and reviewing,” he said. “I have done that before this incident, I will do it after this incident and I will do it until the day I retire.”
Vargas, who has called for an outside investigation and a special prosecutor, told the commission the shooting is proof officers in Pasco are poorly trained. The retired Army colonel and former U.S. government official suggested a community oversight committee to monitor the force.
“If Mr. Metzger believes he has such a highly trained, professional police force, how can he explain the complete disregard of every nationally accredited standard governing (the) use of lethal force by three of his men in this execution-style shooting of Antonio Zambrano?” Vargas told the commission.
Metzger has been in contact with the FBI, DOJ and other agencies that continue to monitor the local investigation. Officials locally have remained quiet about when the investigation will be handed over to Sant for review.