When video of Pasco police officers shooting and killing a rock-throwing man who was high on meth went viral in 2015, many people were outraged, demanding answers and action.
But it took years to publicly air details of the incident in the effort to sort out whether the shooting was justified under the law.
Two years after the incident, a coroner’s inquest into the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes was held, and the jury decided the officers were justified under the current law in their decision to shoot Zambrano-Montes.
An effort in the Legislature to approve legislation to speed up the process is under way. The proposal by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, has merit.
In the years following the shooting, the legitimate concerns about the officers’ actions festered. The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office opted not to file charges in the case, and in 2016, the state Attorney General’s Office announced that it would not file charges.
However, because of civil litigation in the case, information was not fully disclosed.
Holding the coroner’s inquest sooner might have helped. It’s always best to be as transparent as possible in these matters.
Padden said the legislation, Senate Bill 5769, is aimed at making inquests more useful in high-profile cases involving law enforcement.
“The Pasco inquest showed that coroners’ juries can play an important role in allaying community concerns,” Padden said in a news release. “By presenting the facts clearly, inquests allow the public to see what went into a decision to use deadly force. A transparent inquest process can go a long way toward clearing the air.”
Unfortunately, that did not happen in a timely fashion in the Pasco case.
The Tri-City Herald reported that the inquest was held nearly two years after the shooting and after the coroner faced numerous obstacles, such as funding for the proceeding and finding a location for it.
The proposal would allow county commissioners to overrule medical examiners who refuse to conduct inquests; require special consideration for deaths involving law enforcement and jail inmates; require counties to budget for inquests; require tribes to be notified if the death involves a tribal member; and create a deadline for setting an inquest location.
The more that can be done to shine light on these matters so the public can see what has occurred, and they can trust what they see, the better the system works.