A decision by federal prosecutors to not pursue charges against the Pasco police officers involved in the February 2015 fatal shooting of a Mexican man will not halt a lawsuit by the man’s family against the city and other officials.
There is insufficient evidence to criminally charge officers Adrian Alaniz, Adam Wright and Ryan Flanagan in the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington announced Tuesday in a news release.
“There is no reliable testimonial or physical evidence that refutes the accounts provided by the officers that they believed the force they used was necessary to protect themselves and to stop a perceived threat,” the release said.
Zambrano-Montes’ family was informed of the federal prosecutors’ decision last weekend and is disappointed, said Seattle attorney Charles Herrmann.
Herrmann is one of the attorneys representing the extended family in a civil case against the city of Pasco. The case was recently scheduled to go to trial in federal court in early May 2017.
“Videos clearly show police firing many shots at Antonio, wounding him in his right arm and chest as he tried to run away,” said Agapita Montes Rivera, Zambrano-Montes’ mother, in a news release from Herrmann’s office. “When he turned to surrender, they shot him to death. Where is justice for my son?”
‘No indication to willfully violate rights’
Zambrano-Montes, 35, died after the officers shot at him 17 times in February 2015. High on methamphetamine, 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. Wright and Alaniz have returned to duty.
Protests decrying discriminatory treatment of Latinos by the city and police have continued in Pasco since the shooting.
The recent decision to not federally charge the officers was made after a team of prosecutors and investigators reviewed witness statements, reports, records and other evidence.
U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby acknowledged the painfulness of the case, but said prosecutors and investigators had to consider multiple factors and aspects in their decision. Specifically, there was no indication that the officers sought to willfully violate Zambrano-Montes’ rights.
“Mistake, misperception, negligence or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation,” the release said.
Herrmann told the Herald that video of the shooting shows that after officers injured Zambrano-Montes with a first volley of shots, “he turned to surrender and they fired a second volley and it was totally unjustified.”
Herrmann and the other attorneys representing the victim’s family, who have since merged their claims against the city, are committed to giving them their day in court, he said.
Community members still seek change
Pasco city officials said in a news release that the police department has taken steps since the shooting to better serve residents, including training with the U.S. Department of Justice on serving diverse communities and outreach efforts to residents and community leaders.
“As a department, we remain committed to providing a safe environment and reducing the fear of crime while affording dignity and respect to every individual,” said Pasco Police Chief Rob Metzger.
The city is still awaiting the results of a review of the shooting by the state attorney general, which was ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee last fall.
One community organization that arose after the shooting, Latino Coalition Tri-Cities, blasted the prosecutors’ decision and warned that it removes any incentive for Pasco’s police department to make any substantial or lasting reforms.
“Mr. Ormsby had a choice,” the coalition said in a statement. “He could have filed a charge of ‘reckless endangerment’ against the three police shooters, but he chose instead to duck this option and to align himself with the local county prosecutor. In so doing, he drove the final nail into the coffin of justice in Pasco.”
The coalition said Pasco police have made some changes that have shored up its public perception, but more needs to be done.
It seeks the creation of a Board of Review to provide input to the department, and also wants positions for an ombudsman and director of multicultural affairs established within the city government.
Inquest still on hold
What’s unclear is how the federal prosecutor’s decision affects a planned coroner’s inquest into Zambrano-Montes’ death.
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel said he has yet to read the federal prosecutor’s decision, and didn’t know whether it would affect the inquest.
“The inquest is a fact-finding procedure for the public and I don’t think it affects that,” he told the Herald.
Blasdel has hit hurdles ever since he proposed the review. Most recently, the Columbia County prosecutor who had agreed to conduct it on behalf of Blasdel’s office stepped down from that role, saying the initial investigation into the shooting was thorough.