A statewide Latino group plans to seek changes in the state Legislature next year after three Pasco police officers were not charged in a February shooting.
The Latino Civic Alliance wants to take the decision on prosecuting police shootings away from local prosecutors and put it in the hands of a statewide agency, such as the Attorney General’s Office or state patrol, said Nina Martinez, the group’s chairwoman, at a community meeting Saturday in Pasco.
Attendees at the meeting questioned the investigation into the February shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, because it was conducted by a group of area law enforcement officials. They also said Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant’s decision could have been politically motivated.
“The community will feel more comfortable that justice has been served (with a state decision),” Martinez said.
The civic alliance, which seeks to increase awareness of the Latino community in the state government, also wants comprehensive legislation requiring uniform training and standards for when officers use deadly force. But Martinez said changes won’t be easy.
“We need to work with police,” she said. “We need to sit down with the unions. We need to collaborate and find common ground.”
The federal government appeared more willing to get involved in the investigations of police shootings in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore after violence erupted there, than it did in Pasco, where protests remained peaceful, said Richard Reuther, chairman of the Franklin County Democrats.
“Is it because we haven’t burned down our city?” he asked. “Is it because we have gone about it in a sane way? The problems are all the same.”
Others asked for the civic alliance to seek mandatory body cameras for police and citizen review boards for shooting incidents.
Martinez encouraged the 13 members of the public at the event to attend county commission and school board meetings. She also questioned why so little was heard from state legislators after the shooting.
Martinez wants to change that with the civic alliance’s annual Latino Legislative Day in February in Olympia, which she said brings around 2,000 people to the state capitol.
“I’d like to see a strong representation from Pasco,” she said. “If we need two buses — each bus carries 60 people — we’ll sponsor that.”
Martinez supported a review of the Zambrano-Montes case by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, as well as an inquest by Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel.
Police were also faulted for reaching out to some Hispanic clergy members, but not others in the community.
“You would just call that tokenism at its finest,” said Leo Perales, a member of Tri-Cities Community Solutions.
Some blamed the low attendance at Saturday’s meeting and other events on a fear of retaliation against people in the country illegally. The concern is particularly high among farmworkers.
Perales said attendance dropped off at rallies in support of Zambrano-Montes — himself an immigrant farmworker — because of rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials might be in attendance.
Martinez asked the farmworkers in attendance to bring people who are afraid of retaliation to privately meet with the Latino Civic Alliance. She serves on a state board that works with agriculture producers.
“I am out there fighting as the voice of the farmworkers,” she said. “We need farm workers to be there with us. We can win this fight to get better pay and (prevent) retaliation, but we need them there.”
Other issues were brought up, including the recent strike by Pasco School District teachers. One attendee placed blame on the district for keeping too much of its reserve funds, but also said teachers aren’t giving 100 percent.
The Latino Civic Alliance plans to compare Pasco graduation rates with Kennewick and Richland, as well as other cities in the state, Martinez said.