A national spotlight has been cast on Pasco since a controversial police shooting in February, and the public, local and national, await the results of the investigation.
It’s critical that every step be taken to remove any doubt that the investigation will be as thorough and unbiased as possible.
Which is why we struggle to understand recent statements by the Franklin County prosecutor and county commissioners questioning the need for an independent inquest called for by the coroner.
Police say Antonio Zambrano-Montes was throwing rocks at passing motorists, and then at police when confronted. Three officers took aim at Zambrano-Montes when he did not comply with orders. Questions abounded as many passers-by witnessed and videotaped the shooting at a busy Pasco intersection.
Immediately after the controversial shooting death, Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel called for a coroner’s inquest. And we applauded him for it.
Elected coroners may call a jury of six to determine cause and manner of death under state law. Blasdel has only called for two in his more than 20 years in office, so it’s not an action he takes lightly or makes frequently.
Prosecutor Shawn Sant says it’s unlikely the inquest would uncover any new evidence. And it could further delay a decision on charges.
Franklin County commissioners say it’s just too expensive to hold an inquest. The coroner estimates the cost at $10,000, but the commissioners don’t seem to believe that.
The county is on the hook for the expenses for experts and jurors, a stenographer and bailiff, and other associated costs. We would think our elected officials would see that a little additional spending could bring more assurances that the investigation was as thorough as possible.
One commissioner went so far as to say he wanted to seek legislation to regulate coroner’s inquests.
Our justice system is built on checks and balances. A coroner’s inquest is one more investigation into a very controversial death, and would show the public that every effort has been made to find the truth.
Blasdel said, it provides more transparency to the investigation. Witnesses and experts are called to testify and the prosecutor presents evidence.
No matter what decision the prosecuting attorney ultimately makes regarding charges, there will be those who disagree. A coroner’s inquest would add a more independent layer to the investigation. Sant has been accused of being too cozy with law enforcement. He should welcome the inquest, not dismiss it.
Regardless of their concerns, it is within the coroner’s purview to call and conduct an inquest. This is just the type of case that needs more sets of eyes. Blasdel made the right call, and no amount of bullying by other elected officials should change that course.
Whatever the inquest costs, it will be a small price to pay for stronger trust between the community and law enforcement.