PASCO – A weeping Agapita Montes-Rivera, mother of the man shot dead by Pasco police officers about two weeks ago, led a funeral procession almost 100 strong out of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on Wednesday afternoon.
There were no chants, or signs, or marches. Friends and family members said their final goodbyes. The body of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, will be flown back to Mexico for burial.
Montes-Rivera asked Lutakome Nsubuga, the priest conducting the service in Spanish, to thank community members for their support.
The legal questions raised by the Mexican national’s death – captured on video by onlookers – will not be resolved for some time, police officials signaled later Wednesday.
The case has placed national attention on this city of 68,000, more than half of whom are Hispanic, as family members and activists call for a federal investigation of the officers’ conduct.
Sgt. Ken Lattin of the Kennewick Police Department, spokesman for the special investigation unit looking into the incident, said Wednesday that Zambrano-Montes was shot at 17 times by three officers. Five or six of the shots struck the 35-year-old, who had past confrontations with law enforcement. He was reportedly throwing rocks at cars near a bustling intersection when he was confronted by officers.
Lattin said none of the shots struck Zambrano-Montes in the back.
The three officers who fired – identified as Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz – have not been interviewed, Lattin said. Investigators are waiting for all of the witness testimony to be transcribed before speaking with the officers, he said.
“If we don’t have all the facts, they can tell us whatever story they want,” he said. “I don’t think they would, but they could.”
Initial reports also indicate that rocks were found near Zambrano-Montes’ body after the shooting. Lattin did not say where the bullets fired that didn’t hit Zambrano-Montes landed, nor did he say which of the officers fired the shots that killed him, citing the preliminary nature of forensic reports. The officers used their Tasers twice on Zambrano-Montes before firing, Lattin added.
Lattin and Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Sant, a former police officer and criminal defense attorney, said Wednesday it would be the last news conference they would hold addressing the killing before a coroner’s inquest is conducted, for fear of releasing information that could bias potential jurors.
“It looks like we’re starting to play this out in public court,” Lattin said. “We don’t want to do that. There are processes in place.”
Sant estimated that the inquest, a public court hearing with jurors convened to determine if criminal charges in a death will be filed, would not take place for at least two months.
Sant also dismissed notions that his career in law enforcement would bias his judgment and said he would make a decision based on the law.
“That’s what I was hired to do; that’s what I was elected to do,” he said.
Felix Vargas, chairman of Hispanic business advocacy group Consejo Latino in Pasco, said after the news conference that he was concerned about Sant’s partiality in the case. Vargas, on behalf of Zambrano-Montes’ family, has called for a Justice Department review of the Feb. 10 shooting and said he would be speaking with U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington Mike Ormsby about the case Wednesday night.
“I think Mr. Sant should seriously consider recusing himself,” Vargas said. “We’re particularly concerned about him being part and parcel of the investigation.”
The Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also has called on federal authorities to take charge of the investigation. In a letter sent to Vargas that he read aloud from Wednesday, the ACLU charged that investigators are spending too much time examining Zambrano-Montes’ activities before he was shot, and not enough on the training the officers received before firing at a busy intersection.
“This line of inquiry makes it appear that (investigators are) looking for ways to discredit Mr. Zambrano based on any problems he may have faced in his past, instead of ascertaining the facts about the officers’ knowledge at the time of the shooting,” the letter reads.
Public protests in Pasco have remained peaceful but well-attended. On Saturday, demonstrators marched from the site of the shooting to the Pasco police station then across a cable bridge connecting Pasco to Kennewick, halting traffic.
A makeshift memorial has sprung up at the site where Zambrano-Montes was shot, with signs and messages written on the sidewalk in chalk condemning the officers in English and Spanish. Several Christ candles and balloons also have been left there.
Outside Pasco City Hall, Lorian Reavely waved at passing police cars and pedestrians seated near a sign asking to stop police brutality. Reavely, who’s lived in Pasco since 1987, said she and her husband were thrown into action by the amateur video of the shooting, which shows an initial volley of gunfire, then a chase down the sidewalk before Zambrano-Montes turns and is shot by officers.
“People are still paying attention here,” Reavely said, as a couple drove up in an SUV and handed her juice with their thanks. “We’ve had a lot of community support.”
Reavely said the demonstrations by Pasco residents have not been about Zambrano-Montes alone. Local authorities have shot and killed five men since last summer, evidence that change is needed in training, she said.
“When I was growing up, there were no police shootings,” she said. Activists plan another march Saturday in the city.
Vargas, the business leader seeking federal intervention, said his group intends to look to Spokane activism as a model for attracting federal review in Pasco. The U.S. Justice Department recently released its recommendations for the Spokane Police Department, a review launched as a result of the conviction of a police officer in the Otto Zehm case. Zehm died in 2006 in police custody.
The community also has rallied to support at least one business owner affected by the shooting. Residents started an online campaign to raise money for the owner of Vinny’s Cafe and Bakery, a shop just feet from where Zambrano-Montes was killed that recently opened its doors and has faced declining business in the aftermath.
The shop has raised $2,200 online, and more visitors stopped in Wednesday morning to leave an extra-large tip or donation in Vinicio Gomez’s till. Among those were Patricia Franz and Darlene Petty, who stopped in for lunch on a break from their work at a local soup kitchen.
“It’s great to see the community coming together to support this,” Petty said.
As the funeral procession fanned out Wednesday, friends and family members embracing Montes-Rivera and others wiping away their tears, a donation box was handed around. Leona Michael Garcia Espinoza stepped forward and dropped a few dollars in, saying she’s seen too much recent violence by law enforcement.
“This has got to stop,” she said. “This is not justice.”
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