Cars honked and drivers waved as demonstrators brandished signs in Pasco late Thursday afternoon on the seven-month anniversary of the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
Earlier in the day, the American Civil Liberties Union and others called for a change in Washington state law on the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers.
They were reacting to Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant’s decision, announced Wednesday, not to file criminal charges against three Pasco police officers for killing Zambrano-Montes.
The officers fired 17 shots at Zambrano-Montes, 35, of Pasco, after he threw rocks, some as large as cantaloupes, at police and others.
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Sant ruled the incident did not meet the high standard for criminal prosecution of officers under state law, which requires showing that the officers acted with malice and without good faith.
“The prosecutor’s statement clearly shows the need to amend our state law for use of deadly force by law enforcement,” said Kathleen Taylor, ACLU of Washington executive director, in a statement.
“The current law makes prosecutors exceedingly unwilling to file charges against police and thereby makes it almost impossible to hold police accountable for wrongfully killing civilians,” Taylor said.
Society entrusts law enforcement officers with weapons and the authority to use deadly force, she said.
“With that trust comes the duty to use that authority with very great care,” she said. “Officers have a responsibility to use deadly force only when absolutely necessary to protect themselves or others against serious bodily harm. Whenever possible, they should find ways to de-escalate encounters with civilians and use alternatives to deadly force.”
The ACLU statement said prosecutors should not be limited to bringing charges only in cases where they believe that the officer acted with “malice.”
Officers should be permitted to use deadly force only when they make a reasonable assessment that they or others are at serious risk of death or severe bodily harm and that there is no other available means to prevent death or severe bodily harm, the ACLU said.
Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, who serves on the state House Public Safety Committee, also issued a statement Thursday. He supports Gov. Jay Inslee’s request for a state review of Sant’s decision and for “an ongoing effort to improve our criminal justice system to avoid future tragedies.”
The committee is working with Sue Rahr, the director of the Criminal Justice Training Commission, to push for better use of deadly force, community policing and crisis intervention practices in the state, Moscoso said.
“We can and must do better,” he said. “In the wake of this decision, I am committed to reviewing the high bar for criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers under Washington state law.”
The Latino Civic Alliance also called for a change to state law, saying it is needed to prevent police officers from being exonerated when they use excessive force.
“Trust is broken. It needs to be rebuilt,” said a statement from the statewide group.
The alliance values the courageous acts of the vast majority of police officers, but police leadership and the judicial system need to hold officers accountable when they violate their role to protect and serve, it said.
“We want those responsible for Mr. Zambrano-Montes’ death held accountable,” the alliance said. “We encourage our community in Pasco to unite in this time of crisis.”
Demonstrators have gathered each month since Feb. 10 to remember Zambrano-Montes.
“Today is primarily a vigil,” said Jeremy Peterson of Tri-Cities Community Solutions.
About 20 people waved signs and chanted “it was just a rock” near where Zambrano-Montes was shot near the intersection of 10th Avenue and Lewis Street.
“We can’t let the people of the Tri-Cities forget,” said Eddie Enriquez of Pasco. “Otherwise it will be swept under the rug like every other incident.”
Peterson and Enriquez both said they were disappointed in Sant’s announcement Wednesday.
“We saw a pattern where cops in other jurisdictions being not held accountable,” Peterson said. “But you never expect injustice to be upheld in your community.”
They expect a planned rally from 2 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Volunteer Park by the Franklin County Courthouse in Pasco to draw a larger crowd.
“We want to inform the community about what the options are going forward” with state and federal involvement, Peterson said. The Department of Justice and the FBI are conducting an independent investigation, in addition to the state-level review requested by Inslee.
Tri-Cities Community Solutions would like the three officers involved in the shooting arrested and for the Pasco police chief and Sant to step down from their positions.
The group plans a fundraiser for Vinny’s Bakery and Cafe, 4:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Sept. 26, 1107 W. Lewis St. Business has been down since Zambrano-Montes was shot in front of the cafe.
OneAmerica, a group that advocates for equality in Washington state, also issued a statement Thursday, saying Sant’s decision “challenges reason” and commending Inslee for asking for the review.
“Furthermore, that incident and other examples of the deaths of unarmed residents at the hands of police in this community in recent years demand real scrutiny into the practices of the police,” wrote Rich Stolz, OneAmerica’s executive director.
“Community engagement will be essential to shaping a path forward to change the relationship between law enforcement and the local residents they are charged with protecting, including members of immigrant and Latino communities,” Stolz said.