Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel is contemplating moving an inquest into the fatal Pasco police shooting of an orchard worker to another county because of problems finding a venue to hold the proceedings.
Blasdel has had trouble finding a secure building large enough to accommodate the inquest, which is expected to last two weeks and could see dozens of witnesses called, he said.
The inquest, a fact-finding proceeding uncommon for the area, will give a jury of six civilians the opportunity to make a recommendation on whether the Feb. 10 shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, was justified. The jury would also decide the cause and manner of death in the case.
Franklin County court officials have told Blasdel rooms in the courthouse will not be open for him to use until at least October, the coroner said. Blasdel may look at moving the inquest to Grant or Yakima counties.
“The thing I would love is for the Superior Court administrator to say, ‘we have freed up a courtroom, you can use it,’ ” Blasdel told the Herald. “Then we could move on with it.”
After consulting with colleagues from around the country, Blasdel is also considering asking the state Attorney General’s Office for an outside prosecutor to take over for Prosecutor Shawn Sant, who has the choice to present evidence at the inquest.
Sant will ultimately make the final decision whether to criminally charge officers Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz, and former officer Ryan Flanagan, who recently resigned from the force. The men fired 17 shots at Zambrano-Montes after the Mexican national threw several large rocks at them.
Sant has made thousands of pages of documents and mountains of evidence available to the public, something Blasdel and Sant say could taint the jury pool.
Blasdel told the Herald he has had little communication with Sant’s office about the inquest.
“I just don’t feel like I’m getting the cooperation out of the prosecutor’s office like I have in the past on other inquests I have done,” Blasdel said.
Prosecutors released information to the public because the evidence was requested by media outlets under the Public Records Act, Sant said.
“The duty of those in public office is that we have to follow the law and one of those laws we have to follow is the Public Records Act,” Sant said.
Blasdel, who has the power as an elected official to call an inquest, still plans to move forward with the proceedings despite concerns raised by county commissioners and Sant.
There have been seven inquests in Franklin and Benton counties since 1990.
Sant is not in favor of the inquest, saying it is unnecessary and will likely not produce any additional information for prosecutors to review. Commissioners have questioned the need for the inquest and the money it could cost the county.
Sant, who has reviewed about 90 percent of the evidence in the case, could make a charging decision before the inquest and said he will consider doing so.
Attorneys for the Zambrano family have expressed to Sant that there is no need for an inquest and would like to see a decision announced, he said.
“I haven’t come across anything in my review that would say I would really like to have an inquest,” Sant said.
Blasdel will not call off the inquest after hearing concerns of other elected officials because he wants the community to feel like there is transparency in the case, he said.
“It’s what the community wants,” he said.