Internal review clears Pasco officers in police shooting

Pasco police officers gather outside of Vinny's Bakery and Cafe on 10th Avenue and Lewis Street in Pasco on February 10, 2015, following the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes by three Pasco police officers.
Pasco police officers gather outside of Vinny's Bakery and Cafe on 10th Avenue and Lewis Street in Pasco on February 10, 2015, following the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes by three Pasco police officers. Tri-City Herald

Two reviews of the fatal shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes determined that the three officers who fired 17 times at the rock-throwing man at a crowded intersection did not violate police department policy.

The reports, released Wednesday, clear the way for officers Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz to return to full-time duty immediately. The third officer involved in the February shooting, Ryan Flanagan, resigned from the department in July.

One report was conducted internally by Pasco police. The other was completed by a police research and consulting agency in New Hampshire, Police Policy Studies Council.

The internal investigation found the use of force was appropriate because of the potential for serious harm or death from the large rocks Zambrano-Montes threw, according to a copy of the report.

The shooting was also warranted, the report said, due to Zambrano-Montes’ erratic and volatile behavior, statements he made about wanting police to kill him and his refusal to obey commands.

“All three (officers) felt that they had to stop Zambrano-Montes’ assaultive behavior before he seriously injured or killed someone,” wrote Sgt. Scott Warren.

“They ruled out trying to engage Zambrano-Montes physically because of the risk that he could strike them in the head with the large rocks he was wielding and refusing to drop,” he added.

Earlier this month, Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant ruled the shooting was justified and announced his decision not to file criminal charges against the officers. Sant based his decision on the belief the rocks were deadly weapons and that the officers acted without malice when they decided to open fire.

The state Attorney General’s Office, at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee, is reviewing Sant’s charging decision.

Zambrano-Montes, 35, was high on methamphetamine during the confrontation, captured on cellphone video, at the intersection of Lewis Street and 10th Avenue. The orchard worker was shot several times and died in front of a bakery. Some of the officers’ 17 bullets missed Zambrano-Montes, striking the bakery and a gas station across the street.

Several witnesses reported hearing Zambrano-Montes telling officers to kill him as he squared off with police.

Video of the shooting, which shows Zambrano-Montes fleeing as officers fire rounds, angered many in the community and across the nation. The shooting has led to months of ongoing protests and Hispanic leaders speaking out against the police force.

Felix Vargas, leader of Consejo Latino, a Hispanic community group in Pasco, was not surprised by the decision to let the officers return to work, he said.

The former Army colonel told the Herald that the mishandling of the case by Pasco officials, namely Sant and police Chief Bob Metzger, has tainted their decisions to clear the officers.

“It’s all been part of a process which is been very flawed from the very beginning,” Vargas said. “It’s a very sad day for Pasco and very sad day for the judicial process here in the Tri-Cities.”

The police department’s internal review of the shooting reportedly was separate of investigations conducted by Sant’s office and a special team of police that collected evidence in the case. The purpose of the internal review was to determine if the officers violated department policy, and if so, what the punishment would be.

Pasco city and police officials declined to talk in detail Wednesday about the internal investigation, citing pending civil litigation in the case.

Prior to shooting Zambrano-Montes, the officers issued several verbal commands to try and de-escalate the situation, the review said. Two officers fired Tasers at Zambrano-Montes, though the stun guns had no effect.

Police determined officers only used deadly force when Zambrano posed a threat for serious bodily harm or death, the review said. Investigators say Zambrano-Montes turned to throw a rock at police as he was shot dead.

“We have exhaustively reviewed this incident and my decision to return the officers to duty was founded on the determination that their actions were consistent with department policies and procedures,” Metzger said in a prepared statement.

Police Policy Studies Council was asked to investigate the shooting separately from Pasco’s internal investigation. The agency was handpicked by Pasco officials and paid an undisclosed amount for its opinion in the case.

The additional review also determined that the officers’ actions were justified and the use of force was consistent with the department’s policy, according to the report, which was published on the city’s website.

A key finding in the Police Policy Studies Council report was that the number of shots fired by the three officers wasn’t unusual when compared to other police shootings in Los Angeles County, wrote Thomas J. Aveni, executive director of the agency.

Research by Aveni also revealed that bullets are more likely to miss their intended targets when there are several officers involved in a shooting.

“The officers used lethal force in response to both immediate and imminent threats of serious harm to themselves and members of the public,” Aveni wrote in the report.

Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson