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Lawyer in Ferguson case to represent slain Pasco man’s family

Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press

PASCO – The high-profile attorney who represented the family of a black man killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, says he’ll represent the parents of an unarmed Mexican man shot to death by officers this month in Pasco.

The Feb. 10 killing of Antonio Zambrano-Montes – captured on video by a witness – has sparked protests and calls for a federal investigation.

Monday, Benjamin Crump, who represented the family of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, told the Associated Press the family is worried about the fairness of an investigation.

Authorities say Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant and former orchard worker, was throwing rocks at officers. They say a stun gun failed to subdue him. The Franklin County coroner has ordered an inquest into the death, which is being reviewed by a regional task force and monitored by federal authorities.

The mother of Zambrano-Montes viewed her son’s body for the first time Monday and said she hopes for justice in the case.

Agapita Montes-Rivera spoke to reporters before entering a local funeral home with other family members and said through an interpreter that the situation is difficult.

“I want people to understand my pain,” the 60-year-old said. “It’s really hard. … When I saw the video, I felt really bad. That’s why I asked for justice.”

Crump was in Pasco meeting with the family Monday.

“At the heart of the matter is what’s going on with what we see on that video – is it appropriate or not?” Crump, who is based in Florida, told the Associated Press.

“The No. 1 thing they said is, ‘We don’t want them to say that the police acted appropriately,’ ” said Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager killed in a confrontation with neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 in that case.

In a video recording by Dario Infante Zuniga, of Pasco, five “pops” are audible, and Zambrano-Montes can be seen running away, pursued by three officers. As the officers draw closer, he stops, turns around and faces them. Multiple “pops” are heard, and the man falls to the ground.

Crump said Zambrano-Montes spoke no English and was an immigrant living in the country illegally.

Felix Vargas, head of the Pasco Hispanic rights group Consejo Latino, said a Seattle-based Justice Department official met with his group Sunday. The official said meetings are planned this week with local authorities, Vargas said.

Pasco is a fast-growing agricultural city of 68,000, where more than half the residents are Hispanic but few are members of the police force or the power structure.

The killing was the fourth by Pasco police in less than a year. Officers were exonerated after similar investigations in the first three cases. Critics in the latest case say the officers should have used less-than-lethal force to subdue Zambrano-Montes.

“Zambrano-Montes had his hands up. Why did you have to shoot him?” Crump said.

Police said officers felt threatened. Zambrano-Montes was arrested last year for assault after throwing objects at Pasco officers and trying to grab an officer’s pistol, court records show.

Authorities have said Zambrano-Montes was not armed with a gun or knife when he was killed. Whether he had a rock in his hand when he was shot is still under investigation.

Crump said the Pasco case is similar to other high-profile killings involving police officers.

“All the young people are protesting that Antonio had his hands up based on what they saw in the video, and he had no weapons,” Crump said. “And just like in New York (where) it shows the graphic last moments of Eric Garner’s life, here you have a video that shows the graphic last moments of Antonio’s life.”

In December, a grand jury in New York declined to indict an officer in Garner’s chokehold death.

Meanwhile, another attorney who says he’s representing Zambrano-Montes’ family said he wants to temporarily withdraw a $25 million claim filed by Zambrano-Montes’ widow and two daughters against the city after the shooting. Attorney Charles Herrmann of Tacoma said Monday the claim was premature.

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