The parents of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, who was shot dead after throwing rocks at Pasco police, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Pasco, the Pasco police chief and the officers involved.
They are claiming wrongful death, saying the Feb. 10 police shooting was excessive and unnecessary. They also are suing over Zambrano-Montes’ suffering immediately before and after he was shot and for loss of companionship and financial support. His parents, who live in Mexico, said their son had helped support them.
“While local law enforcement whitewashed this killing in deciding not to file criminal charges, this case demands a full public civil trial before a fair and impartial jury where both sides will be heard,” said attorney Charles Herrmann, in a statement.
Reviews conducted by the Pasco Police Department and the Police Policy Studies Council determined in September that the officers’ actions were justified. Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant decided not to file criminal charges against the officers, saying the rocks were deadly weapons and that the officers acted without malice when they opened fire.
These last few moments of Zambrano’s life were filled with pre-death psychological terror and extreme physical pain.
Lawsuit filed by Zambrano-Montes’ parents
The standard of proof in the civil case filed by Zambrano-Montes’ parents is significantly different than what a prosecutor would be required to prove in a criminal case, Herrmann said.
“First, the burden of proof is a mere preponderance of evidence, as opposed to the criminal burden of beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “No evil intent is required, only that deadly force was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances.”
Agapita Montes Rivera, Zambrano-Montes’ mother, has been appointed the personal representative of the estate, and is the only person authorized to sue on the behalf of the estate for the benefit of Zambrano’s two daughters, said the lawsuit filed in federal court.
Zambrano-Montes’ widow filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Pasco and officers in September. She also named her daughters with Zambrano-Montes as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Zambrano-Montes, an orchard worker, was throwing rocks before he was shot at by three police officers during a confrontation at a Pasco intersection near Fiesta Foods. He had been using methamphetamine, according to a toxicology report.
The lawsuit filed by Zambrano-Montes’ mother and his father, Jesus Zambrano Fernandez, asks for a trial by jury and a judgment that includes compensation, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs. Although the lawsuit does not name an amount, a claim was filed with the city of Pasco in advance of the lawsuit seeking $4.76 million.
The lawsuit filed by Zambrano-Montes’ widow is asking for more than $35 million in damages.
Pasco police officers routinely were inadequately trained in crisis intervention in dealing with mentally disturbed persons such as de-escalation techniques.
Lawsuit filed by Zambrano-Montes’ parents
The latest lawsuit claims that officers lacked adequate training in crisis intervention.
“The city of Pasco and Chief (Robert) Metzger are equally liable for the killing because the chief had fostered a long-standing policy whereby police officers were not properly trained in crisis intervention in the areas of de-escalation and the use of non-lethal means, especially when dealing with mentally disturbed people,” Herrmann said.
Pasco police officials declined to comment while litigation is pending.
The first officer on the scene after reports were called in that Zambrano-Montes was throwing rocks had taken a two-day course on “street survival” at the Kennewick Police Department and then part of a class on crisis intervention, the lawsuit claimed.
Instead of using techniques to calm Zambrano-Montes, the officer argued, ordered and screamed at the man, who repeatedly told the officer to kill him, according to the lawsuit.
The second and third officers to arrive had little or no formal training in crisis intervention, the lawsuit said.
Officers shot tasers at Zambraon-Montes twice, making full contact the first time, but without dropping Zambrano-Montes. Until then Zambrano-Montes had not thrown a rock while police officers were there, according to the lawsuit.
But as the first two officers brandished their firearms while yelling at Zambrano-Montes to drop the rocks he was holding and get on the ground, Zambrano threw several rocks at the officers. One hit an officer’s thigh but caused no injury, the lawsuit said.
Police and family disagree about whether Zambrano-Montes was preparing to throw a rock when he was killed.
When the third officer arrived, he almost immediately began firing at Zambrano-Montes, who turned around and ran, according to the lawsuit. It claims that Zambrano-Montes then stopped and turned around to surrender with both hands extended in front of him.
“When surrendering, he did not engage in any action that would even remotely be perceived as preparing to throw another rock,” the lawsuit said. Seventeen shots total were fired at Zambrano, with all but one of the shots fired by two of the officers.
The Pasco Police Department’s investigation into Zambrano-Montes’ death gave a different account of the shooting. It said that the officers felt they needed to stop Zambrano-Montes’ “assaultive behavior” before he seriously injured or killed someone.
Officers ruled out trying to engage him physically because of the risk that he could strike them in the head with the large rocks he was refusing to drop, it said. Zambrano-Montes turned to throw a rock at police just before he was shot dead, according to the report.
After Zambrano-Montes went down, officers did not provide medical aid, the lawsuit said. Instead, he was handcuffed as he lay unconscious and then died within a few minutes, according to the lawsuit.
“These last few moments of Zambrano’s life were filled with pre-death psychological terror and extreme physical pain,” the lawsuit said.
The officers should have received better crisis intervention training and also training in the effective use of nonlethal means to subdue mentally disturbed people, the lawsuit said. They had pepper spray, batons, Tasers and less lethal shotguns that should have been effectively used, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit criticized the delay in questioning the officers until late April and early May after their attorneys allegedly had been supplied with confidential investigative information.
Zambrano-Montes’ parents are represented by high-profile attorneys, including Herrmann of the Seattle area, who specializes in major airline crashes; Jose Baez, of Florida, who is best known for representing Casey Anthony, who was acquitted of murdering her 2-year-old daughter; and Benjamin Crump, of Florida, who represents the family of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen who was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.