Shot down for throwing a rock

February 20, 2015

Darrin Hoop reports from Washington state on the murder of Antonio Zambrano-Montes by police in Pasco--and the angry and saddened outcry from the community.

ANTONIO ZAMBRANO-MONTES was murdered in cold blood.

After watching the video of the execution-style killing by police in Pasco, Washington--now seen by over 1.6 million people--it's hard to draw any other conclusion.

On February 10, at around 5 p.m., according to Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger, three officers responded to a 911 call about a man allegedly throwing rocks at cars at the busy intersection of 10th Avenue and Lewis Street. The Mid-Columbia Tri-City Herald reported that Metzger claimed Zambrano-Montes refused to listen to officers' orders to surrender. After one cop attempted and failed to subdue Antonio with a Taser, the three officers chased him across the street and shot him in front of the grocery store Fiesta Foods.

At the beginning of the video, one of the cops is standing right next to Zambrano-Montes, who appears to be holding a rock. It's unclear from the video if any officer used a Taser. What is clear is the police opened fire with multiple shots. Zambrano-Montes then darted across the street. On the other side, he can be seen in the video, moving at the speed of somewhere between walking and a slow trot.

Demonstrating for justice for Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Washington
Demonstrating for justice for Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Washington

The cops caught up to Zambrano-Montes, and right after he turned around to face them, the police gun him down with at least another seven shots. Zambrano-Montes had no knife or gun. In fact, the officers proceeded to handcuff him and leave him to die on the sidewalk.

At least 40 people witnessed the murder, which took place at a busy intersection during rush-hour traffic. One eyewitness interview posted on YouTube said Zambrano-Montes threw a single rock at the cops, which missed. Metzger's claims that Zambrano-Montes threw multiple rocks at officers was "a bullshit lie, and I'll say it to the man's face," the witness says.

The witness also points out that while one cop attempted to Taser the victim, the other two immediately drew guns, not Tasers or mace. In other words, two officers clearly chose to use lethal weapons from the start.

THE COMMUNITY responded with outrage and sadness, establishing a round-the-clock vigil with candles and flowers at the spot of the shooting. Zambrano-Montes' widow, 32-year-old Teresa de Jesus Meraz-Ruiz, and his two young daughters have filed a $25 million lawsuit against the city of Pasco.

What you can do

Check out the "Justice for Antonio Zambrano" Facebook page that has been set up to help coordinate actions demanding justice for Antonio.

Antonio's cousin Blanca Zambrano-Rivera has set up a GoFundMe account to raise $5,000 to pay for his funeral costs. She can be contacted at 509-987-4749.

According to the claim, "At the time that he was shot and killed, execution style, by the three officers named herein, in broad daylight, and with no knife or firearm in his hands, and for the conduct of throwing rocks at an earlier time, Mr. Zambrano-Montes posed no danger to the three officers. The suit also accuses the city of "retaining officers who had a proven history of violation of civil rights against the Latino/Hispanic community" and "allowing and fostering overt racial (animus) toward the Hispanic/Latino community within the Pasco Police Department."

As CNN reported, "The claim accuses the police of assault, battery, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, wrongful death and civil rights violations."

This is the fifth case of local police shooting and killing someone in the last seven months. In four of those cases, the department's Special Investigative Unit (SIU), which was set up to look into incidents that "involve great bodily injury or death," have cleared the killers of any wrongdoing. Zambrano-Montes' death will mark the the 11th investigation by the SIU since its inception in 2010. In all prior cases the SIU has finished reviewing, the cops have been cleared.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the three killer officers has a history of brutality against Latinos--or to be more specific, a Latina.

Maria Davila-Marquez named Officer Ryan Flanagan and another cop in a federal lawsuit against the city of Pasco for an incident in May 2009. On her way to pick up her kids, the two officers, responding to a complaint about a "suspicious teenager," stopped the 30-year-old Davila-Marquez. After interrogating her and refusing her a Spanish translator, they brutalized her.

In a 2012 interview with KEPR-TV, Davila-Marquez's lawyer, Vito de la Cruz, explained, "Miss Davila was handcuffed, and she was thrown on the hood of a very hot patrol car, and she suffered burns to the left side of her face, bruising to her shoulders from being handcuffed and manhandled."

The officers charged their brutalized victim with hindering a police investigation, an allegation later dropped due to lack of evidence. The city eventually settled with a $100,000 payment to Davila-Marquez.

IN ADDITION to the ongoing vigil and lawsuit, more than 1,000 people rallied on February 14 at Volunteer Park across from City Hall and marched to the spot of the murder, in what many said was the biggest protest in recent history in Pasco, a city of 68,000 people.

Protesters came from Seattle, Portland, Idaho and as far away as Arkansas, according to KEPR-TV. Antonio's cousin Maria told the station, "It's more than just the Hispanic community. It's all colors, and we're loving it and enjoying it that we're seeing the whole community coming together like this."

As reported, "With the calls 'Black lives matter, Hispanic lives matter' and 'Hands up, don't shoot,' the rally turned into a march, led by the family members of the killed father of two, who chanted 'El pueblo unido jamás sera vencido'--'The people united will never be defeated' in Spanish."

In a statement released on February 11, Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the Washington state American Civil Liberties Union, wrote:

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. 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.

Since this rally, smaller actions have been organized in Pasco, with those demanding justice attending a City Council hearing and a SIU press briefing, along with a solidarity rally in downtown Seattle on February 18.

In response to community and family pressure, the three cops were placed on administrative leave. Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel also confirmed to NBC News that he is conducting an official inquest "because of the outrage within the Hispanic community saying it's a cover-up and accusing the police of investigating themselves. It will make the findings transparent."

Blasdel said that in his 20 years as the county coroner, this is only the third time he's conducted an inquest. NBC News reports, "The inquest is similar to a grand jury, but will be open to the public and media. A jury of six people--half of them Latino--will see and hear the results of the investigation as presented by the prosecutor, Blasdel said. There is no defense attorney cross-examination and the jury will then decide whether the shooting was justified. The prosecutor, however, still makes the final decision on whether to pursue the case."

Unfortunately, the inquest won't begin for at least another two months because it can't begin until the formal SIU investigation is completed. The SIU says it could take eight weeks to finish its inquiry. Due to the fact that almost the entire incident was caught on video, how difficult could such an investigation be? It's hard not to think the authorities want to delay this process in the hopes that community anger will die down over time.

SOME OF the media have reported on Zambrano-Montes' criminal record. His wife filed a protection order against Antonio in 2006. The Tri-City Herald reported that he threatened to kill her, physically abused her and pulled a knife and gun on her during their nine-year relationship. He was arrested after a confrontation with police in January 2014 and sentenced to six months in jail.

Zambrano-Montes allegedly admitted in the emergency room that he had been using methamphetamines. Cops again arrested him in the past couple of weeks for failing to pay his fine and court costs from the 2014 incident. There's no evidence so far that the officers who killed him knew this history. And even if they did, the past still doesn't justify murdering an unarmed man.

A more accurate explanation for the officers' behavior toward Antonio would be calling it racism.

In a similar way that the murder of Mike Brown exposed the white power structure in the majority African American city of Ferguson, Missouri, the murder of Zambrano-Montes should expose how Latinos suffer discrimination, abuse and violence in a city where they are the majority.

As a New York Times article explained:

[I]n Pasco, a city of 68,000 that is 56 percent Hispanic, the public killing has pierced the immigrant enclave, spurring protests that have attracted hundreds and highlighting a division between the city's increasingly Latino populace and its power structure--the police, the city government--which remains largely white.

According to the Times, out of the 68 police officers in Pasco, only 14 are Hispanic, with only a dozen speaking fluent Spanish. Clearly, for Antonio, who doesn't speak English, and Davila-Marquez, the consequences were horrific. The Times also reported that there is only one city council member who's Latino, and there are no Latinos on the five-member school board, in a school district that is 70 percent Latino.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2009 and 2012, 21.5 percent of Pasco's population lived below the poverty line, 26 percent were foreign born, and 51 percent spoke a language other than English at home.

Antonio was an undocumented farmworker, who came to the U.S. 10 years ago from Michoacán, Mexico. He worked in the nearby orchards. Recently, he broke both his wrists after falling from a ladder in an apple orchard. In January, he was rescued from a house fire in the place he rented with another person. All his belongings were destroyed.

According to a Tri-City Herald interview with his cousin Blanca Zambrano, at the time of his death, Antonio was staying at the local Salvation Army and suffered from depression due to being separated from his daughters.

All this takes place in the context of a climate of racism against immigrants on a national level. On February 16, Andrew Hanen, a federal judge from Brownsville, Texas, put a stop to President Barack Obama's executive orders implementing some reform proposals that could offer help to millions of people in gaining protection from the immigrant enforcement system.

All of this background is important, but it doesn't obscure the simple facts of this case. As Blanca Zambrano put it in her interview, "This man for throwing rocks gets shot down to death by officers. What kind of name does that give to the Pasco police department?"

As the legal system drags its feet "investigating" this murder over the next few months, it will be imperative that the community--with people acting in solidarity around the country--use the time to continue organizing and demanding "Justice for Antonio!"

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