An investigation is under way into three law enforcement officials with the Pasco Police Department in Washington State after cops there shot and killed a man this week who had reportedly been throwing rocks at officers.
Video footage purported to be from the
incident appears to show the victim, 35-year-old Antonio
Zambrano-Montes, fleeing on foot from three Pasco police officers
across a busy intersection with arms akimbo. The man then turns
and faces the cops with his arms in front of him when a barrage
of gunfire — as many as 13 shots, according to some accounts — is fired from their guns, fatally
Eyewitnesses say that Zambrano-Montes was unarmed at the time of
the shooting and, according to one, was “just trying to walk
away” when he was shot and killed. Local media outlets have
since reported that the man has had a history with local law
enforcement and had been released from police custody only one
day before he died.
“This is a very disturbing incident, and our hearts go out to
the family of Antonio Zambrano-Montes. Fleeing from police and
not following an officer’s command should not be sufficient for a
person to get shot,” Kathleen Taylor, executive director of
the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington State, told
reporters. “Lethal force should be used only as an absolute
last resort. Police need to understand how to de-escalate
confrontations and use force only as necessary.”
Chief Bob Metzger says that police arrived on the scene moments
before Wednesday’s officer-involved shooting after being alerted
that a man had been lobbing rocks at nearby vehicles. When the
cops approached Zambrano-Montes, the chief said the man threw at
least one “softball size” rock at the officers and then
ignored their orders to put down the rest of his projectiles,
prompting the police to deploy their Taser stun-guns “with no
effect on the subject,” according to Metzger and eyewitness
accounts. At least two officers were injured by the rocks,
according to the Seattle Times, and were treated at the scene.
“With the threatening behavior by the subject toward the
public and the officers during the altercation, officers
immediately fired on the subject with their service weapons and
the subject went down,” the police chief said at a news
Video footage purported to be of the shooting surfaced to the web
shortly after the incident quickly unfolded, propelling the
ordeal to the forefront of local news on Wednesday and raising
questions from residents, including those who saw Zambrano-Montes
killed with their own eyes.
“I am really upset about what I saw,” Pasco resident and
eyewitness Benjamin Patrick told The Seattle Times on Wednesday.
“I could not believe they were shooting guns. There were cars
and people everywhere.”
“Yes, he was resisting. Yes, he was wrong. But it looked like
there might be something wrong with him. And he wasn’t hurting
anyone. He had a rock, not a gun. It seems it could have been
handled differently,” said Patrick, who had planned to
attend a rally on Wednesday outside Pasco City Hall to protest
the killing. Another demonstration is currently scheduled for the
same location on Saturday.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Chief Metzger said he was unsure
if Zambrano-Montes was armed with anything other than rocks
during the ordeal of if any weapons had been recovered.
Blanca Zambrano, the victim’s cousin, told a local NBC News affiliate: “We just want justice because today
it happened to us, tomorrow it could be any other family.”
“It could have been avoided, there could have been other ways
around it,” she said.
Police spokesman Capt. Ken Roske initially declined to release
the names of the officers involved, but later identified them as
Officers Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz. All three
have been placed on administrative leave pending the result of an
internal investigation that may take months to complete.
“We always stand behind our officers unless they are proven
[wrong],” Chief Metzger said. “We are at this point
doing a thorough investigation. If the officers are wrong they
will be dealt with accordingly. If they are not wrong, that will
also come out.”
One of the three officers involved in Wednesday’s shooting,
Flanagan, has previously been identified along with another cop
in an excessive force lawsuit filed by a Pasco resident in 2009,
according to the Los Angeles Times. The city ultimately
settled the lawsuit for $100,000, the newspaper reported.
Flanagan is a nine-year veteran of the Pasco Police Department,
according to local media. Wright and Alaniz have been on the
force for eight and two years, respectively.
According to KNDO, the NBC affiliate, a record check revealed that police had
responded to an incident last year in which Zambrano-Montes is
alleged to have been hitting cars with a broom. When cops
approached him, the network reported, Zambrano-Montes apparently
began throwing items at the officers, including a rocking chair,
and then tried to take one of their guns. He was ultimately
hospitalized and treated for methamphetamine use.
A bench warrant was also issued only two weeks ago for
Zambrano-Montes’ arrest, according to the Los Angeles Times,
after he reportedly failed to appear at court for an unspecified
charge. It’s unclear when he was apprehended with regards to that
complaint, but the Times reported that Franklin County court
records show that Zambrano-Montes was released by the police on
Monday, one day before his death.
The Tri-City Herald described Zambrano-Montes as a Mexican-born
orchard worker who didn’t speak English but spent the last decade
or so in Pasco. His cousin, Blanca Zambrano, said the victim is
survived by two daughters.
NBC News could not immediately verify the authenticity of video footage purported to be
from Wednesday’s shooting, but the Associated Press reported that the person alleged to have
filmed it, 21-year-old Dario Infante, said he recorded it from
his car after he saw one of the officers deploy his stun gun.
“He didn’t throw any rocks after he started running,”
Infante said of the shooting victim.
Police have reportedly identified other recordings of the account
and are reviewing them as part of their investigation into the
Pasco is a town of around 66,000 situated in southcentral
Washington, northwest of Walla Walla. According to the AP,
Tuesday’s incident marked the fourth fatal officer-involved
shooting in Pasco in six months.