Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has agreed with a local prosecutor’s decision not to file criminal charges against three Pasco police officers who shot and killed a rock-throwing man in 2015.
Ferguson notified Gov. Jay Inslee of his decision Thursday. It’s been one year since Inslee directed Ferguson to review the decision by Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant not to charge the officers involved in the shooting. Michael Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, also declined to file federal charges against the officers.
Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, died after being shot at 17 times near the Fiesta Foods grocery in Pasco. He had been throwing rocks and was high on methamphetamine at the time.
The death rocked the Latino community, but Sant concluded the evidence did not support criminal charges and that the officers were “acting in good faith and without malice.”
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Ferguson confirmed that decision in his letter to the governor.
“After careful consideration of the evidence and the applicable law, we have concluded that Washington law does not support bringing criminal charges against the involved police officers,” he wrote.
Though he stopped short of charging officers Adrian Alaniz, Ryan Flanagan and Adam Wright, the attorney general said he was “deeply troubled” by the events that led to Zambrano-Montes’ death.
“I believe that the use of deadly force in this case, though legally justified, was not the only possible way to protect the police and the public from his dangerous behavior,” he said.
Sant, the county prosecutor, said he hoped the latest review as well as the public release of an investigation into the case will answer legitimate concerns about transparency.
“(H)opefully the conclusions and review by multiple agencies and prosecutors can bring closure to the criminal review of this case,” Sant said in a written response to Ferguson’s decision.
The city of Pasco released a short statement on the police department’s Facebook page:
“The city appreciates the governor’s call for another layer of review of this case and the AG’s thorough look, as it helps with public confidence of the process. The Police Department will continue their community outreach and trust-building efforts,” it said.
Ferguson told the governor that he supports the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent review of the Pasco Police Department that called for more training in the use of force, more training in de-escalating conflict and greater diversity in the department, including hiring more women and more Spanish-speaking employees.
Pasco Police Chief Robert Metzger asked the federal agency’s Community Oriented Policing Service to review department operations after the shooting. Metzger has pledged to take the 27 recommendations seriously.
Felix Vargas, a leader of Latino Coalition Tri-Cities, said the coalition was disappointed that the state will not press charges, but not surprised. Vargas said the coalition will work to change state law on police shootings, but is more interested in developing a collegial relationship with the city and police department as it moves to implement the DOJ recommendations.
“We want to work with the police chief. We want to work with the city. I take the chief at his word that he’s going to work to make this a reality,” Vargas said.
Ferguson’s decision not to pursue criminal charges comes a little more than a week after Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel announced his formal inquest into the matter is on hold again. On Aug. 30, he said the unnamed local attorney he’d planned to hire to present the evidence had backed out, citing legal conflicts and possible discipline by the Washington State Bar.
Blasdel intended to hold an inquest before Thanksgiving but said it is on hold until he can find a retired attorney or non-attorney to present the case. A coroner’s jury can reach conclusions that are not binding on prosecutors. Blasdel first called for an inquest four days after Zambrano-Montes’ death, saying a public inquest would help the community learn from the event.
Agapita Montes Rivera and Jesus Zambrano Fernandez, Zambrano-Montes’ parents have filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Pasco, the police chief and the three officers and their spouses in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington as personal representatives of their son’s estate. Charles Herrmann, their Seattle attorney, was not immediately available to comment on the decision.
Read Ferguson’s full letter below.