Three months after Antonio Zambrano-Montes was shot dead by police, the Pasco city attorney gave council members an overview of the investigative process and what they can expect in the future.
Attorney Lee Kerr told council members to picture an hourglass, saying the fact-finding phase at the top is a critical piece because everything that happens below is dependent on those results.
Kerr cautioned that he was talking in general terms, and not specifically about the case surrounding Zambrano-Montes’ death, because city officials “have been literally outside the tape since the event occurred.”
City Manager Dave Zabell noted that he and several council members attended two separate listening sessions organized by the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
Zabell said a recurring theme has been the time it’s taken for the investigation and the community’s frustration with the slow-moving process.
He felt it was a good opportunity to help people better understand what’s happening by having Kerr go through the different steps in an objective manner.
“As a city, we’re not able to talk about the investigation, but here’s an opportunity to get some information out there,” Zabell said.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, was shot Feb. 10 during a confrontation with three Pasco officers after he allegedly threw rocks near the intersection of 10th Avenue and Lewis Street.
The shooting, which was captured on video, gained international media attention and led to ongoing protests in Pasco.
Zambrano-Montes was shot at 17 times. The chairman of a local Hispanic community group Consejo Latino and others have called for the officers to be charged with murder.
The fact-finding phase includes the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit — a team of local police, excluding Pasco, who are reviewing the evidence and will turn over a final report — and a coroner’s inquest.
The report may be given to Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant in the coming weeks.
Later this summer, Coroner Dan Blasdel is expected to convene a jury to determine the cause of Zambrano-Montes’ death and whether it involved criminal actions.
Then it is the crunch point for Sant — or the center of the hourglass — as he must evaluate all of the information before him, determine whether the officers had reasonable fear for their safety and the force was necessary, and apply the law, Kerr said. That difficult decision may take some time to reach.
“There is going to be some soul searching on Mr. Sant’s part, as well as a significant bit of legal effort,” Kerr said.
Sant can decide to indict the three officers — Adam Wright, Adrian Alaniz and Ryan Flanagan — which would lead to criminal trials, or not pursue charges.
Then, at the bottom of the hourglass, is the question of disciplinary action by the Pasco Police Department and likely at least one civil lawsuit by “those parties who feel they’ve been damaged by the actions of the city,” he said.
Kerr said the police department can decide to suspend, demote or fire the officers.