A Latino activist group on Thursday blasted an effort by a former Pasco police officer to remove the Franklin County coroner from an inquest into the death of a Mexican man shot by that officer and two others in 2015.
The Latino Civic Alliance called the motion filed on behalf of Ryan Flanagan a continued interference that elevates the community’s lack of faith in the judicial system.
Flanagan’s motion claims Coroner Dan Blasdel’s comments in media reports about the inquest of Antonio Zambrano-Montes indicate he would be biased and that a Franklin County Superior Court judge should take over the hearing planned in May.
The organization noted the city of Pasco paid a $100,000 settlement to a Latino woman in 2013 after she said Flanagan and another officer racially profiled her and used excessive force.
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“... (T)his history of his previous actions should reduce his moral fortitude to now make a claim that the coroner would be biased,” said the release from the Latino Civic Alliance, a statewide nonpartisan organization that focuses on civic engagement and social issues.
(T)his history of his previous actions should reduce his moral fortitude to now make a claim that the coroner would be biased.
Latino Civic Alliance
Attorney Scott Johnson of Kennewick who filed Flanagan’s motion said he was only seeking “to ensure the process is a fair process.”
It’s unclear if the inquest, scheduled for May 23 at Columbia Basin College, may be delayed because of the motion. Blasdel declined to talk about the motion Thursday but said, “If we can't get a hearing date set and get a decision made before the 23rd, then we will go ahead and postpone it.”
The seven Superior Court judges of Benton and Franklin counties have recused themselves from the case, meaning court administrators must find a judge from outside the area to hear the motion.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, died after the officers shot at him 17 times in February 2015. High on methamphetamine at the time, he was throwing rocks at police and passing cars.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant declined to prosecute the officers involved. Flanagan resigned from the police department in July 2015. The two other officers, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz, have returned to duty.
Washington state law gives county coroners the power to call special inquests, which are rare. A panel of six jurors hears evidence and asks questions and then can makes a recommendation to the prosecutor.
Sant has spoken against the inquest, and won’t participate in it. The Zambrano-Montes family also has said an inquest is not necessary, Sant has said.
But Latino advocates and others have pushed for the independent inquiry. State law gives county coroners the power to call the special inquests, which are rare. A panel of six jurors hears evidence and asks questions and then can makes a recommendation to the prosecutor.
Blasdel has said citizens have continued to reach out to him to encourage the inquest because of their concerns about the shooting and the investigation. A Columbia County prosecutor/coroner is scheduled to present the evidence at the inquest, which does not include a judge.
“We find the unique stance of Mr. Flanagan to ask coroner Blasdel to be removed from the inquest as undermining the solemnity of (state law) that clearly defines the coroner that ordered it,” said Latino group’s release.
Herald reporter Kristin Kraemer contributed to this report.