Seven jurors were seated Monday to review evidence and witness statements in the 2015 death of a man shot by three Pasco police officers.
The Latino Coalition voiced opposition to officials selecting white jurors to oversee the inquest in the death of a Hispanic man.
The coroner’s inquest is a fact-finding proceeding since local, state and federal prosecutors all declined to pursue criminal charges against the officers who killed Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, was a Mexican immigrant who was fired on 17 times as he ran through the intersection of 10th Avenue and Lewis Street last year.
He was on methamphetamine at the time and was throwing large rocks at passing cars and the responding officers.
Officers Adrian Alaniz and Adam Wright and former officer Ryan Flanagan have all been cleared criminally and by their department of any wrongdoing.
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel said he wanted to go forward with the inquest to ensure the community feels the shooting investigation is transparent.
The Feb. 10, 2015, shooting thrust Pasco into the national spotlight as it was compared to other police-related incidents across the country.
On Monday, local Latino leaders questioned the selection process of the apparently all-white jury.
Leo Perales, spokesman for the Latino Coalition Tri-Cities, said while pleased that the inquest finally has started, the group is “perturbed that on such a day of transparency and justice that we are blindsided once again by one of the many injustices we see in our justice system.”
Perales, who attended some of the selection process at the Franklin County Courthouse, said it is understood the inquest is not a civil or criminal trial. He said it is critical this process is carried out in a fair and impartial manner because “many police investigations are seldom examined in public.”
Michael J. Fox, a retired King County Superior Court judge, is presenting the case serving as a special prosecutor.
Perales wondered how Fox could seat an “all Anglo jury in a county that is over 60 percent Latino.”
“This is nothing more than a slap in the face to the entire Latino community that still has this tragedy hanging over its head,” Perales said in a written statement.
The Latino Coalition has called on Blasdel to dismiss this jury and postpone the inquest until a new panel can be seated. The group says the jury should be “a reflection of Mr. Antonio Zambrano-Montes’ peers and of the whole community.”
Fox dismissed a handful of jurors Monday after reviewing their responses on a four-page questionnaire. The document included questions about their knowledge of the fatal shooting, if they’ve seen videos of the incident and whether they can be fair and impartial.
He also released some people who had other obligations this week.
In further questioning Monday afternoon, Fox excused some people who became emotional when talking about the traumatic incident or said they had made up their mind about whether or not the police were justified.
The two women and five men seated on the panel were the first seven people who remained numerically on the list of the original 79 potential jurors.
The panel includes one alternate just in case something happens to a juror.
The inquest resumes at 9 a.m. Dec. 13 at the Gjerde Center at Columbia Basin College in Pasco. It is open to the public and is expected to last two days.