A coroner is considering taking the rare step of calling for a coroner’s inquest into the police shooting death of a man who authorities said had thrown rocks at officers in Pasco, Washington, Tuesday.
"I want to bring the facts of the case to the public and let a jury of six made up of the community make the determination whether the shooting was justifiable or not," Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel told NBC News Thursday.
Pasco police officers fatally shot Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, at around 5 p.m. Tuesday after a 911 caller reported he was throwing rocks at cars in a busy intersection, police said.
When officers tried to talk to Zambrano-Montes he threw rocks — including one the size of a softball — at officers, striking two of them, Police Chief Bob Metzger said. A Taser was used, but it didn’t have any effect on Zambrano-Montes, he said.
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"With the threatening behavior by the subject toward the public and the officers during the altercation, officers immediately fired on the subject with their service weapons, and the subject went down," Metzger said.
But video purported to show the shooting appears to show the man running away from the officers when he was shot. Metzger did not comment on the video, but said investigators would be examining all recordings of the incident.
Protesters, chanting "We want justice" gathered outside Pasco City Hall and near the scene of the shooting Wednesday and another rally is planned for Saturday.
"We just want justice because today it happened to us, tomorrow it could be any other family," Zambrano-Montes' cousin, Blanca Zambrano, told NBC station KNDO/KNDU. "We can't believe it," Martha Zambrano, the dead man's aunt, told the station.
Coroner’s inquests are rare — Blasdel said he has participated in only two in the last 20 years. The panel of six citizens would investigate the shooting death "in a fair and non-biased manner," and make a recommendation to the county prosecutor, Blasdel said.
The shooting is being investigated by the Tri-City Special Investigative Unit, which is made up of several outside law enforcement agencies, with support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Metzger said the police department is also conducting its own review.
The officers involved in the shooting were identified as Officer Ryan Flanagan, a 9-year veteran of the force; Adam Wright, who has been with the department for 8 years; and Officer Adrian Alaniz, who has been a police officer for 2 years. All have been placed on administrative leave while the investigation continues, Metzger said.
"If the officers are wrong they will be dealt with accordingly, if they’re not wrong that will also come out," Metzger said. "But at this point we’re way premature to decide either way."
Blanca Zambrano said Zambrano-Montes had two daughters, worked at an orchard and had lived in Pasco for more than 10 years. He recently suffered from depression after breaking both wrists in an accident at work, she said.
Pasco is a city of about 67,000 in the southeast part of the state. A little over half of its residents identify as Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data.
— with Phil Helsel