Crime

Prosecutor: Decision whether to charge Pasco police officers coming soon

Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Sant, left, and Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel stand together at a press conference in May to announce that they had received the investigative report on the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano Montes.
Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Sant, left, and Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel stand together at a press conference in May to announce that they had received the investigative report on the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano Montes. Tri-City Herald file

Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant expects to announce a decision within the next two weeks whether to criminally charge three Pasco police officers in the fatal shooting of a rock-throwing man earlier this year.

Prosecutors have reviewed mountains of evidence from a special investigation into the shooting and are now working to determine if the officers were justified in killing Antonio Zambrano-Montes during the February confrontation.

Zambrano-Montes, 35, of Pasco, who was high on methamphetamine, was shot dead in front of a cafe after running from the officers across a busy intersection. The officers fired a total of 17 shots, with at least five shots striking him.

If the decision is reached within the next two weeks, Sant will announce it ahead of a planned inquest called by county Coroner Dan Blasdel, the prosecutor said.

“I know the (Zambrano) family would like to have the finality from the criminal review so they can move forward,” Sant said. “We will announce once we reach a decision. I don’t see the need to wait.”

Blasdel is looking for a venue to hold the inquest, a fact-finding proceeding rare for this area. It allows a civilian jury to determine the cause and manner of death in the case, and make a recommendation on whether the shooting was justified.

Blasdel, who was thinking of moving the inquest out of the county but decided against it, has contacted officials at TRAC in Pasco about possibly holding the proceedings there.

The coroner wants to hold the inquest, which is expected to last at least two weeks and could involve dozens of witnesses, in order to ensure the case is transparent to the public.

However, Sant and lawyers for the widow and the family of Zambrano-Montes are against an inquest. They say the proceedings are unnecessary because it’s clear who killed Zambrano-Montes and the manner in which he died.

Prosecutors have made the special investigation — thousands of documents, videos and witness statements — available to the public in installments over the past two months. The final installment was released Wednesday.

The shooting was captured on cellphone video, which has led to ongoing protests in Pasco and outrage from as far away as Mexico, where Zambrano-Montes was from.

Sant has been outspoken for months that he believes an inquest is pointless. He will focus his legal review on the evidence of the case and won’t give much weight to recommendations made by a potential inquest jury, he said.

“I haven’t changed my position on whether or not an inquest is necessary,” Sant said by phone Thursday. “I still don’t think an inquest will assist in (gathering) any more information related to the death.”

Charles Herrmann, a Seattle-area attorney helping to represent the family of Zambrano-Montes, agrees the inquest would be a waste of time and that it will likely provide no new facts about the case, he said.

“The devil is in the details sometimes, but I don’t think there is any big mystery here. It isn’t a detective story,” Herrmann said. “The primary issue will boil down to a judgment of what kind of threat did Antonio represent or not represent at the time he was shot.”

Yakima attorney George P. Trejo Jr., who is representing Zambrano-Montes’ widow and the couple’s two daughters, is also not in favor of an inquest.

Trejo filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against the city of Pasco seeking more than $25 million in damages.

“Common sense dictates that an inquest is not necessary in this case,” Trejo wrote in an email to the Herald. “The video of the killing has been seen millions of times. There is no dispute that Antonio was shot and killed by the officers. So what is the inquest going to prove?”

Many in the community have complained about the months-long delay in announcing the charging decision. They have pointed to other areas of the country, notably Baltimore and South Carolina, where prosecutors moved quickly to criminally charge officers in death cases.

Sant told the Herald that it’s his office’s goal to bring a partial resolution in the coming weeks to the high-profile case, which has cast a national spotlight on the inner workings of the Pasco police force and the prosecutor himself.

“No longer than two weeks,” he said.

Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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