A group of Latino leaders from Pasco, Washington are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the fatal police shooting of an unarmed homeless Hispanic man who was allegedly throwing rocks at police officers. The video, which has generated attention in the U.S. and Mexico, appears to show officers opening fire as Antonio Zambrano-Montes was moving away from them.
"We are writing a letter, as we speak, to the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder, and requesting the immediate intervention by the Department of Justice in conduction an investigation to determine if the civil rights of Mr. Zambrano were violated and to see if there was excessive use of force," said Felix Vargas, a business leader as well as former Green Beret and diplomat who chairs Pasco's Consejo Latino, in a Latino Rebels radio program on Sunday.
"We're going to be demanding reforms and changes that are needed to deal with special cases of mental illness, which Mr. Zambrano suffered from, with people who don’t understand English because that’s not their native language," said Vargas.
Weeks before the fatal shooting, a group had met with the Pasco Police chief about "conditions that could become problematic," according to Rick Ríos, a business leader and Consejo Latino member who spoke on the radio program. Ríos noted that the department had already paid a fine following a lawsuit on police procedures. The fatal shooting of Zambrano-Montes was the fourth police shooting in 6 months.
Ríos, who like Vargas and other leaders grew up in the area, said the community's Hispanic population has greatly increased to over 50 percent following more jobs in agriculture in the last few years. "This is our community - we must have a voice in how our community is run," Ríos said. About 800,000 thousand Hispanics live in Washington state.
Eddie de la Cruz, who chairs the Hispanic Advisory Committee in the city of Hermiston, Oregon, said Pasco could learn from the way Hermiston's city council regularly meets with the Hispanic committee. "The first thing is I see in Pasco is big gap in communication with Latino community."
Gabriel Portugal, an educator and Pasco civic leader, said the fatal shooting has "shocked the conscience" of the entire community, adding they had "50 shades" at a rally on Saturday including African American, white and Asian leaders as well as Jewish and Christian leaders were at the rally. "This is no longer a Hispanic issue," said Portugal on the Latino Rebels program.
A coroner is conducting an inquest into the death of Zambrano-Montes as a special multiagency investigation on the shooting continues; the three officers involved in the shooting have been placed on leave. The mother and sister of Zambrano-Montes arrived in the U.S. from Mexico as well as his ex-wife from California; they are meeting with family members in Pasco, according to local Hispanic leaders. Zambrano-Monte's ex-wife and daughters have filed $25 million dollar lawsuit.