Investigators charged with looking into the shooting death of an unarmed Mexican immigrant by Pasco, Washington police have completed their report and turned it over to prosecutors, it was announced yesterday afternoon at a press conference. Antonio Zambrano-Montes was shot at 17 times by police officers, after allegedly throwing rocks at passing cars on February 10. His death led to national media coverage, ongoing local protests, and comparisons to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. One video of the shooting has been viewed over 2 million times on YouTube.
A Special Investigative Unit (SIU), comprised of law enforcement officials from neighboring towns, pored over thousands of documents, 1500 slides from cell phone videos, and over 80 witness statements before compiling their report.
“A thorough review will be conducted on this case and while our goal will be to expedite a review as quickly as possible, we will not sacrifice a quality review for speed,” said Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant, the Tri-City Herald reported. Although he noted that he would have “liked to have this case much sooner,” Sant praised the Unit for their thorough work.
Zambrano, 35, was an undocumented immigrant who was allegedly suffering from mental instability. The three police officers involved in the shooting remain on paid administrative leave; one of the officers had actually pulled Zambrano from a fire only weeks before his death.
The release of the SIU report, however, does not mean an end to this case. The next step will likely be a county coroners inquest, to determine the cause of death (this will not take place before August, it was announced yesterday). Once it is complete, then the county prosecutor will decide whether to press charges against the officers involved.
Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger said that now that he has the SIU report, his department can begin its own internal review. “I don’t know how long our investigation will take,” he said, “because there is so much material here.” He declined to comment on the timeline laid out by the County Prosecutor for the next phase of the case.
Chief Metzger said that Pasco residents seem to trust the ongoing investigations. “I think people have come to respect the process. Our community relations are good,” he noted. “We hear comments from a majority of the public that they support us; they want an end to this case but they understand that is a long process.”
George Paul Trejo Jr., the attorney representing Zambrano’s widow and children, said the family has been frustrated by the pace of the investigations. “The Zambrano family asks me, why can’t justice be served?” he said. “Why can’t it be served, as it has been in South Carolina and Baltimore, where officials have acted quickly in cases of police brutality? The instances are similar.” He stated that the family wants criminal charges brought against the police officers for killing Zambrano. The family also plans to bring a civil suit against the city and the police department.
“The delays in bringing the officers to justice is saddening to the family,” Trejo said. “We all believe a criminal jury should decide their fate and there is no reason to delay it.” He added that no one from the County Prosecutor’s Office has been in touch with him or the Zambrano family.
“I find it disappointing that there was no indication from the press conference, as to what the findings of the SIU report were,” said Felix Vargas of Consejo Latino, a local community group. “It doesn’t make any sense that this process will be taking so long; we call it the ‘Never-ending prosecutorial story.’”
Vargas wondered about the intentions of the County Prosecutor. “We are starting to question his motivation. Is he dragging this out so the incident will be more remote in people’s minds once he finally makes his decision about charges? Is he waiting for all the pressure to die down so he can make a decision when people only vaguely remember the Zambrano case? We think that is a possible strategy, because there is nothing swift about what he (the prosecutor) is doing.”
The first, small forum with a federal mediator will be held on Tuesday, Vargas said, followed by a larger one with more community representatives on Wednesday.
The Department of Justice will also be developing a training program for Pasco police officers, through their Community Oriented Policing Services division.
Charlie Marin, who works at Vinny’s Bakery and Café in Pasco, has a unique perspective on the ongoing Zambrano case; Zambrano died on the sidewalk outside the bakery that his father owns. “People in town just want this all to be resolved,” he said. “And we want to be known as a good bakery, not the bakery were this guy got shot.”
There is a makeshift memorial to Zambrano out on the sidewalk, he said, and people still bring candles and flowers to it.
Marin said he has faith that the justice system will work for Zambrano. “I trust that any decision will be the best decision. This is a really nice little town; it is not Ferguson. Sure, the (legal) process is slow, but everyone wants the best outcome, a fair outcome.”