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Pasco: Latinos React to Lack of Charges For Officers In Deadly Shooting

Eddie Enriquez (L) and fellow community protestors try to fix wind-damaged posters in memory of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Washington March 21, 2015. The afternoon before Zambrano-Montes was shot dead by police after he pelted them with rocks, the farmworker had walked out of a Washington state jail a free man. The Feb. 10 killing, about 24 hours after the Mexican immigrant's release, sparked outrage in a Latino majority community that has likened his death to police slayings of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York. A coroner's inquest is to begin in May, after which a prosecutor will decide whether to bring charges against the officers. His family and civil rights groups are calling for a federal probe. To match Feature USA-POLICE/WASHINGTON Picture taken March 21, 2015. REUTERS/Ross Courtney ROSS COURTNEY / Reuters

On Wednesday a county prosecutor in Pasco, Washington announced that no charges would be filed against the three officers involved in the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes. Zambrano, 35, was killed by three officers on February 10, after they confronted him while he was allegedly throwing rocks and behaving erratically. Although the case led to comparisons with the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, reaction in Pasco – a city of 68,600 in southeast Washington – so far seems to be mixed.

Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Sant stated Wednesday that his office found no basis under state law to criminally charge the officers.

Local activists and residents expressed their dismay with Sant’s decision. “We were hoping against hope that they (the prosecutors) would make the right decision. We always had a glimmer of expectation that Mr. Sant would do the right thing and hold officers accountable,” said Felix Vargas of the advocacy group Consejo Latino. “But in our gut, in the deepest part of our being we felt most likely it would be the decision that it turned out. We wanted to be surprised; we were hoping to be surprised – and we were not.”

“It (the announcement of no charges) is a grave injustice to the community and to the Zambrano family, and really, to the law enforcement institution as well,” Vargas added.

Eddie Enriquez, who was in attendance at Sant’s press conference, said that he was not surprised by the news. “There was anger in the room when we heard the decision,” he said. “People shouted, and yelled out, so they voiced their opinions. People were visibly upset.”

People in Pasco have not forgotten the shooting incident, Enriquez said, but some seem to be losing interest as the case has dragged on; it has been nearly seven months since Zambrano was killed.

A vigil is planned for Zambrano Thursday night, with another protest scheduled for Saturday.

Jon Funfar, communications specialist for the City of Pasco, contrasted the media reaction to yesterday’s announcement with the initial response to Zambrano’s death. “After the shooting, we had a tremendous amount of inquiries from around the world,” he said. “This time, we’ve received maybe three calls so far, which is a little surprising.” He acknowledged a response from activists on social media, yet said he had not seen a lot of reaction in the community either way.

A press release from the City of Pasco noted that, “We are all committed to building a safer, more inclusive and stronger community.” It pointed out that since the shooting, the Pasco Police Department has expanded crisis intervention training to more officers, participated in additional training for officers in diverse communities, and coordinated meetings with local Hispanic churches to improve communications relations and understanding. In addition, the Department has stepped up its efforts to recruit minority officers and explored “best practices” programs from police chiefs around the country.

The Zambrano case is not yet over. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has asked the state attorney general’s office to review the Pasco police shooting decision. “I want to ensure that people have confidence and trust in the decision that is made in this case,” Inslee said in a letter to Attorney General Bob Ferguson. A review by the Department of Justice is ongoing.

The Franklin County Coroner is still planning to hold an inquest to determine Zambrano’s cause and manner of death.

But George Trejo, Jr., the attorney representing Zambrano’s wife and children, believes that such an inquest in unnecessary.

“The (Zambrano) family was both shocked and disappointed,” by the decision, Trejo said. “They remain in disbelief how these officers were permitted to avoid any possible criminal charges by the Franklin County prosecutor as a result of firing 17 bullets at their unarmed loved one. They simply cannot understand how the criminal justice system can fail them in Pasco.”

“I am not only disappointed, but disgusted with the decision not to press charges,” Trejo said. “I have complete faith that justice will be served, if not in a criminal court of law, at least by way of our civil justice system. We shall continue to fight for justice for Antonio and his family.”

Trejo has filed a federal lawsuit seeking more than $25 million in damages and plans to ask the U.S. Attorney’s Office to intervene and charge the officers.

Attorneys for Zambrano’s parents and estate have also vowed to pursue further legal action.

According to Blanca Torres, a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Seattle Times, there has been ongoing interest in the case in Pasco. “My take is that there is still interest, it’s just that there is not a lot that people could do, until the prosecutor made a decision,” she said. “It was kind of like everyone was in limbo until that happened. People were told they had to trust the justice system and that there would be repercussions, but the decision was not to change and it has reignited some concerns that police shouldn't have shot him.”

“The concern is still there,” said Torres, who grew up in Pasco. “People still worry, what does this mean, how do we move on from this? All that is still unresolved.”

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