Nearly two years after police in Pasco, Washington, shot and killed unarmed man Antonio Zambrano-Montes, an inquest jury has ruled that their actions were justified. The verdict ends what had become a hotly contested case which animated the local Latinx community.
The December 14 ruling came at the request of Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel, who empaneled the six-person jury not to pass criminal judgement on the three officers involved, but rather as a fact-finding inquest to determine exactly how Zambrano-Montes died, and whether the use of lethal force was justified.
Zambrano-Montes' February 2015 death, which was captured on video by nearby bystanders, prompted massive protests in Pasco, a city of around 70,000 in Washington State. In a letter to Pasco Police chief Robert Metzger, the Mexican consul in Seattle described the shooting as "unwarranted use of lethal force against an unarmed Mexican national."
Earlier this year, prosecutors declined to press criminal charges against the officers involved in the killing—Adrian Alaniz, Adam Wright, and Ryan Flanagan, who has since left the force—saying "the use of lethal force by the officers in this case was reasonable under the standards established in our state laws and that no criminal charges can be filed in this case."
This week's inquest was reportedly launched as a response to that decision, in an effort to demonstrate transparency in the investigative process.
According to the Tri-City Herald, Alaniz and Wright both testified during the inquest. Flanagan did not testify, but jurors were shown segments of a taped deposition Flanagan had given earlier this year.
In his taped deposition, Flanagan explained that he never intended to kill Zambrano-Montes. Rather, his goal was "to stop the imminent threat" posed by the 35-year-old, Mexico-born orchard worker, who had been found throwing rocks at passing motorists. "There was no other alternative," he told attorneys. Toxicology tests later determined that Zambrano-Montes had extremely high levels of methamphetamine in his system at the time.
Warning, this footage may be disturbing for some viewers.
This week's inquest was not without controversy. As the six-person jury was being selected, there was debate over the ethnic makeup of those impaneled, with KAPP/KVEW reporting that while there was one Latinx juror, members of the local Latinx community had hoped for more.
"This is nothing more than a slap in the face to the entire Latino community that still has this tragedy hanging over it's head," the Latino Coalition's Leo Perales said in a statement obtained by the station.