Mayor Tony Guzmàn spoke with a representative of the U.S. Justice Department about investigating a fatal officer-involved shooting days before the city council directed him to do so.
Guzmàn said he began reaching out to federal officials Aug. 1, a day after Mario Martinez Torres was shot by a Wapato officer responding to a domestic violence call. He did it at the request of Martinez Torres’ family, whom he said he has known for years.
The council’s direction came after 60 people attended Monday’s council meeting, demanding a federal investigation into the matter.
Yakima police are investigating the shooting. The department is expected to forward its findings to Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic, who will determine if the shooting was justifiable. Yakima County sheriff’s deputies are conducting a separate administrative investigation.
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“The family of the victim … wants it investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice because the officers at YPD and the sheriff’s office have worked at one time or another for the Wapato Police Department,” said Guzmàn in a statement he read at Monday night’s council meeting. “There is concern that there might be bias in their investigation.”
Wapato officials, Guzmàn said, would fully cooperate with any official investigation into the matter, and consider it “of the utmost importance to the city.”
Yakima police Capt. Jeff Schneider said, to the best of his knowledge, no former Wapato officers are participating in the investigation. The department has no problem if federal officials were to come in and review the case, he said.
“They would find that the investigation was conducted in a fair and professional manner,” Schneider said.
Likewise, Wapato Police Chief Rick Needham said he supports transparency and accountability, and while he has full confidence in YPD’s investigative abilities, he would not object if the Justice Department stepped in as well.
“There are some people who are not going to be satisfied no matter what, and there are others who are seeking answers, and that’s a good thing,” Needham said. “I think people should be interested in government and police work. As long as they’re peaceful, I’m all for it.”
Martinez Torres, 38, was fatally shot July 31 after Wapato officers responded to a report of domestic violence. Wapato police say Martinez Torres was shot after he took Officer Mike Campos’ Taser and used it on Sgt. Larry Ehrhardt during a fight.
Campos, who shot Martinez Torres, remains on paid administrative leave, Needham said, while Ehrhardt has returned to duty.