A high-profile attorney who represented the family of a black man killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., said he’ll represent the family of a Mexican man slain by police in Pasco earlier this month. A Seattle attorney working on the case said the announcement was a surprise, but he’s willing to share the work.
PASCO — The mother of an unarmed Mexican man fatally shot by police officers in Pasco viewed her son’s body for the first time Monday and said she hopes for justice in a case that has sparked protests and calls for a federal investigation.
The Feb. 10 killing of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco was captured on video by a witness. Zambrano-Montes’ mother, Agapita Montes-Rivera, 60, spoke to reporters before entering a local funeral home with other family members. She said through an interpreter that the situation is difficult.
“I want people to understand my pain,” she said. “It’s really hard. … When I saw the video, I felt really bad. That’s why I asked for justice.”
Her attorney said she fainted when she first saw her son’s body.
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Authorities say Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant and former orchard worker, was throwing rocks at officers, and a stun gun had failed to subdue him.
The Franklin County coroner has ordered an inquest into the death, which is being reviewed by a regional task force and monitored by federal authorities.
The high-profile attorney who represented the family of Michael Brown, a black man killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., said he’ll represent Zambrano-Montes’ family. Benjamin Crump was in Pasco meeting with the family Monday.
“At the heart of the matter is what’s going on with what we see on that video — is it appropriate or not?” the Florida-based Crump told The Associated Press.
“The No. 1 thing they said is, ‘We don’t want them to say that the police acted appropriately,’ ” said Crump, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the black Florida teenager killed in a confrontation with neighborhood-watch leader George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 in that case.
But it’s not clear if Crump is representing what would be the main claimants in the case: the widow and two daughters of Zambrano-Montes, who live in California.
On Monday, Seattle attorney Charles Herrmann told The Seattle Times that he is the representing the widow and children, while Crump is representing the parents of Zambrano-Montes and his brother and sister, who live in Mexico.
This has been a case with an ever-changing cast of attorneys.
Herrmann said that it was his understanding that he is still representing the widow, Teresa de Jesus Meraz Ruiz.
He is in Pasco and said he spent two hours with her Monday night.
“I still represent Teresa and the children,” he said. “I invite him (Crump) to get together and make this a cooperative effort.”
Herrmann became involved after taking over from an attorney dismissed from the case by Meraz Ruiz.
Crump’s involvement was announced only Monday.
Over the weekend, Herrmann temporarily withdrew a $25 million claim filed by the widow and two daughters against the city.
Herrmann said the claim was filed without Meraz Ruiz’s knowledge, “let alone the amount they would be demanding.” He said that after “a considered evaluation,” a new claim will be filed.
Herrmann said that Zambrano-Montes’ parents and siblings would have a claim “to the extent that they can establish that Antonio was at least partially supporting them.”
The Seattle attorney said Crump coming on the legal scene was a surprise.
But, Herrmann said, “All that I’ve heard is good things about Crump, and I’ll be contacting him and certainly work in cooperation with him.”
Herrmann said that he and Hispanic leaders are meeting Wednesday in Pasco with Michael Ormsby, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, to urge an independent investigation of the case.
“We’re not trying to impugn the integrity of anybody conducting the investigation, or the prosecutors down here,” Herrmann said.
“But it’s inescapable that they have a bias toward protecting their fellow officers. I think that’s the way it’ll be perceived by the public no matter what they do.”
The Special Investigations Unit looking into the shooting, composed mainly of local law-enforcement agencies, has vowed it will conduct a “professional investigation that is free of conflicts of interest.”
In video recorded by Dario Infante Zuniga, 21, of Pasco, five “pops” are audible, and Zambrano-Montes can be seen running, pursued by three officers. As the officers draw closer, he stops, turns and faces them. Multiple “pops” are heard, and the man falls to the ground.
Crump said Zambrano-Montes spoke no English and was an immigrant living in the country illegally.
Pasco is a fast-growing agricultural city of 68,000, where more than half the residents are Hispanic. Few Hispanic people are on the police force or part of the power structure, however.
The killing was the fourth by Pasco police in less than a year. Officers were exonerated after investigations in the first three cases. Critics in the latest case say the officers should have used less-than-lethal force to subdue Zambrano-Montes.
“Zambrano-Montes had his hands up. Why did you have to shoot him?” Crump asked.
Police said officers felt threatened. Zambrano-Montes was arrested last year for assault after throwing objects at Pasco officers and trying to grab an officer’s pistol, court records show.
Authorities have said Zambrano-Montes was not armed with a gun or knife when he was killed. Whether he had a rock in his hand when he was shot is under investigation.
Two of the officers involved are white; one is Hispanic. All three opened fire, though the number of shots fired hasn’t been disclosed.
Last week, investigators asked for patience as the investigation continues.
Crump said the Pasco case is similar to other high-profile killings involving police officers.
“All the young people are protesting that Antonio had his hands up based on what they saw in the video, and he had no weapons,” Crump said. “And just like in New York, it shows the graphic last moments of Eric Garner’s life, here you have a video that shows the graphic last moments of Antonio’s life.”
In December, a grand jury in New York declined to indict an officer in Garner’s death.