Video expert at coroner inquest for Antonio Zambrano-Montes shooting
One of three Pasco police officers who fired upon Antonio Zambrano-Montes when he wouldn’t stop throwing large rocks said he was not shooting to kill the man.
“The purpose was to stop the imminent threat,” Ryan Flanagan said.
Flanagan explained in a videotaped deposition that he was concerned for his own safety and that of his fellow officers, along with bystanders around the Lewis Street and 10th Avenue intersection on that early evening in February 2015.
Flanagan was not subpoenaed to testify in the coroner’s inquest into the death of Zambrano-Montes, called by Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel. The inquest is under way at the Gjerde Center at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.
Instead, excerpts of a deposition he gave almost eight weeks ago in a civil case were played for the seven jurors Tuesday.
Michael J. Fox, a retired King County Superior Court judge who is serving as a special deputy coroner for the inquest, did not use the official interview Flanagan gave to the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit in May 2015.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, was a Mexican immigrant. He was high on methamphetamine at the time and throwing rocks at passing cars before police were called.
About two dozen people were in the audience Tuesday, including Franklin County Commissioner Bob Koch.
While the inquest is a quasi-judicial proceeding, Blasdel has made it clear that this procedure falls under his office and the executive branch of government.
It is a fact-finding hearing in which jurors ultimately will be asked to determine Zambrano-Montes’ death and whether the officers used deadly force.
The jury verdict will have no effect on whether criminal charges are filed. Local, state and federal prosecutors all have determined either the officers were justified or that there is insufficient evidence to pursue charges.
Officers Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz were sent subpoenas to testify and are expected to appear Wednesday.
However, their attorneys, Gregory Scott of Yakima and John Jensen of Kennewick, told Blasdel the officers will invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves before the jury.
Flanagan, in his deposition, said he recalled Alaniz being hit by a rock three times — once on a foot and the second on his left thigh. He couldn’t recall where the third rock hit.
Flanagan fired three of the first five shots at Zambrano-Montes. Wright shot twice.
Flanagan denied that Zambrano-Montes was running away from them at the time of the first volley, saying he could see the man’s chest when he took aim.
It is not clear who was talking to Flanagan on the recorded deposition. At one point the person asked if there were less-lethal options available to the officers to take Zambrano-Montes into custody or to subdue him.
“There was no other alternative,” said Flanagan, noting it was the first time he’d ever fired his gun on duty during his nine years with Pasco.
The officers then gave Zambrano-Montes the chance to disengage so the encounter could end peacefully, but Flanagan said the suspect chose to keep throwing rocks or chunks of concrete.
When he shot six more times at Zambrano-Montes in the second volley, Flanagan said he felt it was necessary because he was in immediate fear for his own life or the life and safety of the other two officers.
Alaniz got off one shot and Wright fired five more times.
The officers fired a total of 17 times at Zambrano-Montes.
At the start of Tuesday’s proceeding, Blasdel denied a motion filed on Flanagan’s behalf to dismiss the inquest. The coroner said the motion was untimely because a jury had been seated and was about to begin receiving evidence.
Grant Fredericks, a forensic video analyst from Spokane, stabilized some of the shaky cellphone videos from passersby and synced them with patrol car footage so jurors could see what went down that evening.
Other witnesses to testify included Trevor Allen, a forensic scientist with the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab’s crime scene response team; Kennewick police Cmdr. Craig Littrell and Sgt. Randy Maynard for the Special Investigations Unit; and Renee Munoz, a court reporter who had just left work and saw the incident while stopped in traffic at the intersection.
The inquest resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday with Blasdel handling some legal issues. The jury will return at 9:30.
It is open to the public, and is expected to wrap up Wednesday.