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No charges against police in Pasco

Pasco citizens also wait for justice in the shooting death of one of their own

John Chacon

Antonio Zambrano Montes was shot to death by police on February 10, 2015 in Pasco, Washington. He is accused of throwing rocks at the police and resisting arrest. His primary language was Spanish. Were instructions given to Antonio in Spanish?

Thousands took to the streets in the days and months following the killing. Their cry “Justice for Antonio”, “LA RAZA UNIDA JAMAS SERA VENCIDO- The People United will never be defeated” “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police” “End Police Brutality” “Pasco, Ferguson, Baltimore” “Chinga La Policia”.

During World War II Pasco, Washington was a location to where Hispanic people, primarily Mexican-American and immigrants from Mexican, moved. [Pasco is one of three cities regionally referred to as the Tri-Cities: Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation is nearby.] They helped to build the Hanford site — part of The Manhattan project – where the plutonium was produced for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

“National security” racially excluded Mexicans from living at the Hanford site with the rest of the workers. The Hispanic community chose to live alongside the Black community that lived in Pasco. The primary industry of the Blacks in the area was seasonal agricultural work, but since World War II, Hispanic people have become the primary population of Pasco.

The immigrant Hispanic population pay taxes but do not always receive the same rights as American citizens. America- born Hispanics experience the same harassment as their foreign-born counterparts. There are urban legends of the American-born Hispanics being deported after being arrested and processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Racial profiling in Pasco leads to the deportation of anyone without valid identification. Those brown skinned or Hispanic/Latino are targeted for deportation, 56 percent of Pasco is Hispanic or Latino. Fifty-one percent of homes in Pasco speak a language other then English as their primary language in the home. Twenty-six percent of the Population has emigrated from some other country. Twenty-one percent of residence live below the poverty line. Twenty percent of its 68 odd police officers employed by Pasco are Hispanic. These statistic come from the US Census 2010 and may be a current estimate. This statistic counts those permanent, not migrant or seasonal. in the summer months the region’s population swell to meet the farm labor demand.

Questions asked by the Sheriff Deputies in Franklin County Jail during processing lead to authentication of citizenship and identifying undocumented workers–questions they don’t have to answer. The agricultural community in Eastern Washington depends on migrant farmworkers (people whose primary source of income comes from seasonal work). This is a statistic not well counted by the Census Bureau or well reported by those who hire undocumented labor. Discrimination against those considered “illegal” by a conservative government are not allowed access to the American Dream because of racial discrimination and provide opportunity where business can violate labor laws; a practice that goes back one hundred and sixty years to the United States defeat of Mexico in the Mexican-American War.

Previous civil disobedience

Pasco has had other times in its history when riots have occurred. In 1970, protesters launched Molotov cocktails in the direction of law enforcement after 20 arrests were made during a narcotics raid on young people in Pasco’s Volunteer Park, which is across from the District Court House. At least a hundred youth launched an assault on the Franklin County Sheriff’s station throwing rocks and bottles injuring 20 Sheriff and Pasco police who deployed tear gas in an attempt to get the rioters to disperse. In 1987 another riot broke out. Just two nights before Tri-city’s annual water follies boat races, 2000 young people threw bottles and rocks at police.

These two events caused Pasco City officials to determine it necessary to conduct riot training for police the weeks before the water follies each year. This was the 28th year of annual militarization training for the Pasco Police. Pasco’s government has only developed ways to control the community instead of communicating with it citizens and is prepared to continue a tradition of violence against the Hispanic community–a community not satisfied with the city government nor the execution of the law in the city by the police and the court.

The department has also put out advertising to recruit police volunteers to increase its man power in time of need. Police volunteers can be authorized to use deadly force at the discretion of police under the Washington State Justifiable Homicide law.

The shooting of Antonio

Antonio Zambrano Montes, a Mexican national who was legally in the United States for the past decade, had a E.A.D also known as an Employment Authorization Card issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Without this legal identification he could have been placed in jail by Pasco city police if he was arrested on any infraction where he would then have been placed on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold (also known as an ICE hold).

Police had encountered Antonio on several occasions.

Antonio’s dream of a better life was supported by the work he found in the Apple orchards of Washington State. Antonio was estranged from his wife and children after his wife filed for a protection order in 2006. The report describes Antonio as homeless after he was pulled from his burning rental home in January 2015.

Video from one of the dash cams released by the city of Pasco shows Antonio pulling Taser probes from himself and two police officers dodging rocks thrown at them. (Reports indicate Alaniz and Flanagan had Tased Antonio.) It then shows Officer Wright shooting his gun at Antonio. Another angle taken by a bystander’s cell phone shows Antonio turn and start running as Wright pulls his weapon and starts shooting. It is not clear if Antonio’s action of running away was because the officer pulled his weapon and started shooting—a normal response. The officers started shooting when Antonio was 20 feet away from behind the police vehicle. Wright was quoted as saying “I had a clear shot so I took it”.

The same dash cam shows a fence for a few minutes. Then the officer gets back in the car and directs the police car camera towards the side of the street were Antonio’s body lay. The three police officers who shot Antonio until he fell fired at him a few times as he lay on the ground. It is assumed they shot him dead. Video shows they hand cuffed him and did not perform first aid. Did they let him bleed out? It is unknown whether he is dead at this point or critically wounded. It is not known how long it took the ambulance to respond to the crime scene to render first aid or take vitals or retrieve Antonio’s body.

What makes Pasco similar to Ferguson is the utter lack of compassion by police officers; the failure of police to attempt to save a person they had just shot. Does saving that person go against the philosophy of the police when they draw weapons they only shoot to kill? The dash cam video shows the massive police response to the gun fire. If Antonio were still alive, what explanation would he give for being shot 17 times? What would he say? After Antonio was shot dead the medical examiner said that Antonio’s blood contained amphetamines. It is not illegal to have amphetamines in your system or be homeless.

Could a more, less then lethal approach have been used to physically detain Antonio as he did not possess a firearm? Scott Surplus, a Benton County Sheriff Deputy swat team sniper, used deadly force in July 2014 after a man fired 68 rounds from four different guns. The swat sniper fired his weapon once killing the gunman. Corrections officer in prisons overtake violent felons using hand to hand when authorized, with the aid of Taser as fire arms are not usually allowed in side of institutions and jails.

The only other time Antonio was arrested was for assault on a police officer after he was reported to be hitting cars with a broom. This offense was not reported to be an aggravated assault–the type that would have gotten Antonio deported. He was convicted of a Misdemeanor Assault in the 4th Degree and spent five months in jail.

Antonio is described of having suffered in the past from mental health issues. The court never ordered Antonio to seek help. Pasco did not publish the drug test of the Police Officers after they discharged their fire arms or their mental evaluations prior to the shooting or after. The police were not required to make statements about their killing of Antonio for three months. With the police’s knowledge of Antonio’s mental health history shouldn’t they have engaged with him differently?

Community response

People from the movement Black Lives Matter have helped the Hispanic population of Pasco engage in civil disobedience. The American Civil Liberties Union has had representatives involved from the beginning one of whom is Gloria Ochoa, a Graduate of Pasco High and now a Law Adjunct Professor at Gonzaga University of Washington, Spokane. She serves the Spokane Tribe as the Chief Judge for the Tribal Court. She is also the ACLU Director of Local Government and Multicultural Affairs. She has served as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Benton County. She was born in Mexico and has since become a naturalized citizen of the United States.

The Spokane Chapter of the NAACP, Branch #1137, The Washington State Commission on Hispanic affairs, along with many other groups have helped the Pasco residents address the national crises of police brutality in Washington State. Community leaders and business leaders have held press conferences on the Franklin County court house steps denouncing the police violence in Pasco. The community leaders have asked the government to find better ways to police the people without the violence of killing. They have asked the county government to bring charges against the three officers.

Thousands attended the protest either at 10th and Lewis (the site where the three Police Officers Flanagan, Wright and Alaniz shot Antonio) or at Volunteer Park, across the street from the Franklin County court house. Police have arrested many over the last eight months. Some have been arrested while exercising their first amendment rights; others have had charges brought against them unrelated to a peaceful assembly.

The Pasco Police’s preferred tactic for arrest is the “snatch and grab”. This is where the Police abduct by force snatching away from the crowed and arresting participants of the protest. Whisking the abducted away to jail and processing them into the mouth of the penal system, criminalizing them for being in dissent.

The Pasco Police sometimes claim to have telephonic warrants when making arrest but do not show the warrant at time of arrest. Police have charged protesters with a varied array of offences such as Malicious Mischief and Disorderly Conduct. A man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask was arrested for Inciting a Riot in April; he will remain Anonymous and was found in Possessions of Cocaine. Other offenses include Unlawful use of the Street and or Side Walk Interferences for blocking automobile traffic during a civil rights march around the town. Individuals are segregated from the group criminalized and processed into the prison industrial complex.

Two men, Mr. Alfredo Liamedos and Mr. Jose Manzano-Nieves, out on bail from May’s protest still wait for pretrial motions sometime in November. They have private legal representation with suspected ties to the ACLU. They participated in a protest organized by Community Solutions. These two men were arrest after a peaceful march was conducted May 9th. During May’s protest where approximately 30 armed police—not in riot gear but armed with their standard service fire arms—deployed against what seemed like an equal number of protesters exercising their First Amendment right to “peacefully address a grievance to the government”. The police would have only had the use of taser, mace, and hand guns. Not the shield and baton carried by Riot police. Would they have shot protesters for throwing rocks? Thirty police officers is about half of Pasco Division. The City of Pasco also hired camera men and photographers to document the civil disobedience that occurred on May 9, 2015. The City of Pasco reportedly took 300 photos of protesters and two hours of video to document dissidents.

Liamedos and Manzano-Nieves were stopped following the protest when they pulled their car into a taqueria. They were apprehended and arrested on telephonic warrants issued by Pasco Municipal Judge Petersen. Telephonic warrants are normally issued on the Authority of the District Court Judge and not by a Municipal Court Judge. And they are usually reserved for felony searches or felony stops when a police officer has established probable cause that a crime against Federal law has been committed, not on the whim or irritation of a judge for suspected of violating misdemeanors.

The city of Pasco Municipal court does not have a carbon paper it can use to issue telephonic warrants on. Judge Petersen allowed the Pasco police to modify the Franklin County document; crossing out Franklin District Court and writing Pasco municipal, and crossing out search and writing in arrest on his municipal court authority. Judge Petersen’s hip pocket dictatorial style of law would be better suited for a country founded on less free principles then the United States of America as it would lead one to believe it violates a person’s Fourth Amendment right guarding against illegal search and seizure.

A third man was “snatched and grabbed” after leaving the park on May 9. He was arraigned on the 11 and he recited from the first paragraph of the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution that those protesting had “the Freedom of Assembly to address a grievance to the government peacefully”. This individual was unable to make bail and his charges were conditionally dismissed after 47 days of incarceration.

He attempted to have Judge Petersen recused for being the arresting authority that issued the warrants. The police did not arrest the protesters on their authority but on of the judge who having prejudices against the protesters making him incapable of conducting a fair trial.

Only three were arrested out of thirty that day, all male middle-aged anc Hispanic in appearance; the protest was multicultural and against police brutality.

The way the conservative government of Pasco handles protests for Civil Rights is a call for concern. The way the agricultural workers of the Columbia River basin are denied equal rights is an example of racism by the conservative government of Pasco. They deployed police in riot gear once at 10th and Lewis on the 14th of February and again without riot gear but in riot formation on 3rd Avenue near Pasco City Hall on May 9 against the Justice for Antonio demonstrators on at least these two occasions. The police, not the people, escalated the situation both time’s showing the municipality’s willingness to commit brutality against its people.

Protest is becoming the new American standard when dealing with police officers or city governance, for a people asking for change and justice.

Demonstrations of a few hundred people show a popular support to an Idea or cause. A law can become unpopular and a jury can ignore it if they feel it is unjust or find the defendant not guilty. Jury instructions are idea guidelines of the enforcement of the law and not a mandate to adhere to it as America has seen people convicted by racism alone in every state or their civil liberties completely ignored by courts.

Shawn Sant, Prosecuting Attorney for Franklin County, said after reviewing evidence on September 9, 2015 that he was not going to file charges against Flanagan, Wight or Alaniz—the officers who shoot Antonio. He said they “were unable to find any bias. The statute was very clear.” The Washington Law for Justifiable Homicide is RCW 9A.16.040. The way it reads is a person can be shot for fleeing or presenting a danger to the police and or public. It also reads that a lethal use of force is justified against rioters. Sant does not say what statute he is talking about. Even if one could prove that the Washington law for Murder was violated, Washington RCW 9A.32.030, the Justifiable Homicide law, reads a police officer is going to almost always be exonerated for discharging his weapon in the line of duty. Police officers are to work at the discretion of a competent court. Shawn Sant depends on the police to arrest and testify against anyone that has charges brought against them.

With his professional need for police to bring people to court it may be hard for a prosecuting attorney to bring charges against a police officer. The Police Officer’s Fraternal order of Police have a huge political influence and not just in Washington State. They lobby politicians nationally. To have one of their own brought to trial for committing homicide in the line of duty would question the authority the police exercise daily challenging the whole system. With a license to kill by fire arm, choke hold, car, Taser, club, and beanbag or rubber bullet while discharging of his duty, an officer can testify he felt threatened. The police can also be used by a government to suppress to constitutional freedoms as we have seen in Pasco at the direction of a “competent” court.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee directed the Washington States Attorney General’s office to review the decision of Prosecutor Shawn Sant following his decision not to bring charges against Officers Wight and Alaniz. Charges were also not filed on Former Officer Flanagan who resigned from the police force in June and now oversees a Hispanic work crew for a construction company.

In response to Prosecuting Attorney Sant’s decision not to bring charges against the three officers, Director of the ACLU Jennifer Shaw, on September 9, called for changes in Washington State law regarding how police are brought before a court to answer for their actions.

The Defense of Actions Ordinance

Shawn Sant was present on January 21, 2015 at the Franklin county commissioners preceding from Commissioners Record 53 when the commission rescinded The Defense of Actions Ordinance 27-2002 and then enacted The Defence of Action Ordnance 2-2015, a municipal code relieving any police officer or city employee of legal or financial responsibility at the discretion of the commission and prosecutor. Protecting them against criminal and civil liability, while in the performance of their duty on the behalf of the government and placing the burden of responsibility on the city taxpayers should a criminal or civil case be brought against the officer or employee. The ordinance provides a county attorney will be provided if necessary, but will not cover the expense of a private one, if criminal legal proceeding against an officer or employee should manifest or for settlement of civil law suit should one occur in accordance with RCW 4.96.041. Sant asked three times if anyone would like to make any comments about how he summarized the new ordnance 2-2015. No one was present in dissent of the ordnance; present that day at the hearings was Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7. This law gives employees universal protection if in the performance of their duties, which relieves them of financial penalty and responsibility for the laws they might break or the crimes they might commit. A group of people in governance and in collusion while in the employment of the government could deprive a person or people of life, liberty or property violating the Fourth Amendment without being held accountable for their actions by that government with whom they are in collusion in the passing of this ordinance. The local government is responsible for passing this law, not the people. Those people denying the residents of Pasco justice are the current elected officials both in Pasco and Franklin County.

Response to Sant’s announcement

Hundreds of people took to the street peacefully following Sant’s press conference. The police did make arrests over the following week of protest though the police chief, Bob Metzger, issued a statement that the police department was going to allow the demonstrators to demonstrate peacefully and that riot police were not going to be deployed against; however, he warned that there was a plan in case demonstrators became violent. The main body was allowed to demonstrate and the police even blocked traffic for them. Arrest were made, but for reasons other than unlawful use of the street. This single act by the Government of Pasco likely averted a repeat of The Zoot suit riots of 1943 of Los Angeles when the large Mexican population rioted against the racist establishment following the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial. The police had rounded up primarily the Mexican community many who were born in the United States like the generations before them.

The Antonio Zambrano Montes’ family attorney Benjamin Crump a notable civil rights lawyer known for representing the family of Trayvon Martin has filed a wrongful death suit for $25 million dollars against the City of Pasco in Federal court.

The president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto denounced the killing of Antonio, a Mexican national, calling “it was a disproportional use of force”.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also been conducting its own review of events and situations leading up to the shooting of Antonio Zambrano Montes and the actions of the local government following the shooting. Many are eager for Federal charges to be brought against the people responsible for Antonio’s death. The FBI Civil Rights Division has not yet published their findings in Pasco as they did following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

A coroner’s inquest

In the months to come the Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel is planning to hold an inquest. He is not getting much support from Sant’s office and is trying to have the inquest held in another county but finding it difficult to do so without Sant’s co-operation. Coroner Blasdel, a medical professional, has the authority to investigate the situation behind the shooting independently, where a jury reviews the evidence that is in possession of the state and allowed into trial. That jury will then make a recommendation to Prosecutor Sant if they think a murder has or has not been committed. Sant can still choose to ignore the jury’s finding.

It is clear three officers did not use their hand to hand training to subdue Antonio. Instead they chose to kill him though they outnumbered him three to one. The video shows no rocks in his hand as they gunned him down on a street full of bystanders. It shows him surrendering.

Laws and the enforcement of them can over time be found to be unjust and repealed. An example is the abolishment of slavery in the Thirteenth Amendment. The police officers’ actions in the writing of the law and the understanding of the statute by Prosecutor Sant, who is in collusion with the police, cannot find justification in bringing charges against the officers. That does not mean the three officers should have shot Antonio Zambrano Montes. People are not satisfied with the situation and they will not forget the murder of Antonio. If the people of Hispanic community want the rights afforded to them under the Constitution, then they will to continue to go into the streets and demand them.

More protests are expected in the future. A people united can change the law.

There is no Justice for Antonio Zambrano Montes in Pasco.

John Chacon served in the Army as a 3 time volunteer, completing two tours of duty in Iraq, earning the Army’s Combat Action Badge for taking fire while performing his duty. He did not run over children for protesting the American presence in their country even though the rules of engagement said he could. He chose instead to risk his life and spare theirs.


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