Key moments in fatal Pasco police shooting case
The widow, daughters and parents of a man shot dead after throwing rocks at Pasco police have agreed to a tentative settlement of $750,000 in a federal lawsuit.
However, their lawyers can’t agree how the payout should be distributed. So a judge has rejected the offer and placed the civil case on hold for four months while the parties try to work out an agreement.
If nothing is done in that time, a new trial will be set in U.S. District Court for the civil rights suit that stemmed from the February 2015 death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
It is not clear in court documents who will pay the settlement.
The lawsuit, which was consolidated from two civil cases, was filed against the city of Pasco, the Pasco Police Department, Chief Bob Metzger and officers Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz.
A court document in the case says the tentative settlement “will resolve all claims against all parties.” It further said the settlement requires court approval because of the claims made on behalf of the two underage children.
Yakima attorney George P. Trejo Jr. filed a motion Friday to have the settlement enforced after Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson ruled recently she would not accept it.
Trejo also wants to disqualify colleague Charles Herrmann from the case and to have Senior Judge Lonny R. Suko decide how the money should be divided.
A hearing on Trejo’s motion is set for Jan. 29.
Suko initially was assigned to preside over the lawsuit, but he removed himself from all proceedings within days after the September 2015 filing. He did not give a reason for stepping aside.
Peterson was assigned to the federal civil matter.
Trejo accused Herrmann, a Seattle lawyer who’s represented Zambrano-Montes’ parents, of being unethical and unprofessional, acting in “a slimy manner to take advantage of the poor” and trying to mislead and bully Peterson at the Dec. 19 hearing to go with his proposed disbursement of funds.
Herrmann has said each of the two daughters should receive $225,000, each parent $125,000 and the widow $50,000.
He said in a court filing that he’s made it “abundantly clear” the parents will not settle for less than $125,000 each.
Herrmann also wrote in the document that Kennewick lawyer Joel Comfort indicated his only concern is that the total settlement amount remains the same, not how it is divided.
Comfort represents the city, police department and police chief.
Trejo, the lawyer for the widow and children, said there never was an agreement on the distribution amounts. The “parents and children have divergent interests that stand contrary to one another,” he said.
Zambrano-Montes, 35, died after the officers shot at him 17 times at a busy downtown intersection in February 2015. The migrant orchard worker, who was high on methamphetamine, was throwing rocks at police and passing cars.
An autopsy found he was shot five to seven times.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant, then-U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby for Eastern Washington and then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch all declined to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved.
Sant said officers who use deadly force when confronting an armed suspect are “acting in good faith and without malice.”
Flanagan resigned from the police department in July 2015, while Wright and Alaniz eventually returned to duty.
Jurors in an independent Franklin County coroner’s inquest in December 2016 found the officers reasonably believed the rock-throwing man posed a serious threat if not stopped.
Agapita Montes Rivera and J. Jesus Zambrano Fernandez claimed the shooting of their son was excessive and unnecessary, and that he suffered both immediately before and after he was shot. The parents, who live in Mexico, said their son helped support them and they lost companionship with his death.
Montes Rivera also has been appointed the personal representative of her son’s estate.
The widow, Teresa de Jesus Meraz Ruiz, and her two daughters also claimed that Zambrano-Montes posed no immediate danger to police and that the officers used excessive force when firing 17 times at the man as he ran away.
The lawsuit seeks $25 million in damages.
Richard R. Johnson, a Yakima lawyer, was appointed as an advocate on behalf of the daughters since they both were minors when Zambrano-Montes died.
The girls now are ages 15 and 18, and have lived with their mother in Hilmar, Calif., since 2006.
Zambrano-Montes and de Jesus Meraz had a religious ceremony in a Catholic church in Mexico when they were teenagers, but were never civilly married in Mexico or the United States, Johnson said in a court filing.
The widow’s position is that the two had “an intimate spousal-like relationship, cohabitated for several years and had two children together,” and that personal relationship was constitutionally protected and thus violated by Zambrano-Montes’ death.
Zambrano-Montes moved to the United States several years before his death. His parents never traveled from Mexico to visit him, and “had very little direct contact with him over the years,” he wrote.
He also pointed out the defendants’ contention that Zambrano-Montes was estranged from family before his death and acted out badly when around them, so they didn’t have much to do with him.
Johnson, as the daughters’ guardian ad litem, noted that “survivorship damages go to the estate,” and the girls are Zambrano-Montes’ sole legal heirs.
He recommended that Judge Peterson approve the proposed $750,000 settlement because it would be “a very expensive case to take to trial” and the defendants have asserted several potentially favorable defenses.
“There’s more than enough insurance/funds/resources from/for the defendants to fully satisfy all the plaintiffs’ claims in this case,” Johnson said.
He supported the decision to give each daughter $250,000, but added that it’s outside the scope of his duties to suggest how the rest is divided.
The 18-year-old should get the money now, while her younger sister’s money is held in a blocked account until her 18th birthday, he added.