A coroner’s inquest into last year’s Pasco police shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes is to begin May 23 at Columbia Basin College.
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel said the community college donated the cost of using a room for the fact-finding hearing.
“It goes to show that we live and work in an incredible community, and we are very grateful for the support from Columbia Basin College,” Blasdel said in a news release.
“The Franklin County Courthouse does not have a courtroom big enough that will allow the public and the members of the media, to observe the proceedings,” he said in the release.
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He said the room needed a capacity of more than 50 people.
“The public has a right to observe the process and we have the responsibility for providing a safe venue ...,” he said.
Blasdel began his yearlong campaign last February for an inquest into the high-profile death of the homeless man, but was blocked by access to county funding and courtrooms.
The public has a right to observe the process and we have the responsibility for providing a safe venue ....
Dan Blasdel, Franklin County coroner
Zambrano-Montes, 35, died after he was shot at 17 times by three Pasco police officers. High on methamphetamine at the time, he threw rocks at police and passing cars. Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant declined to prosecute the officers and has spoken against the inquest and again said Monday he will not participate.
He also said in a statement released Monday that attorneys for the Zambrano-Montes family don’t believe it’s necessary. “While the family’s interest in an inquest certainly isn’t the only consideration, it is telling when those suffering the greatest loss ... do not seek an inquest,” he said.
He noted the state Attorney General’s Office and the federal Department of Justice are independently reviewing the Zambrano-Montes case for potential criminal charges and neither agency plans to participate in the inquest.
He said state law does not require the prosecutor to participate but his office will continue to provide legal advice to Blasdel, “as we do for all Franklin County departments and elected officials.”
Columbia County Prosecutor/Coroner Rea Culwell has volunteered to serve as a special deputy coroner to present the evidence and witnesses to a panel of six jurors and an alternate.
While the family’s interest in an inquest certainly isn’t the only consideration, it is telling when those suffering the greatest loss ... do not seek an inquest.
Shawn Sant, Franklin County prosecutor
They will be decide the cause of death and if anyone is criminally responsible. The panel can make recommendations to Sant, who does not have to follow them. The jury can also make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future, said Blasdel.
The hearing is expected to last about four days.
Blasdel is hiring Phoenix Security to provide security at the hearing, including searching bags and purses and using a metal detecting wand to screen people.
He said a schedule will be published closer to the proceedings.
“The community wants this inquest. They want to see that the investigation was done in a proper manner,” he has said.
The delays and court scheduling issues prompted Washington lawmakers to pass a law, requiring counties to hold inquests in their Superior Court facilities and provide other support, though the law has yet to take effect.
Blasdel did not have an up-to-date estimate on the cost of the inquest.