A Hispanic advocacy group in Seattle is calling on the Justice Department to investigate the police shooting of an unarmed man in Pasco, Washington on February 10.
A letter signed by Felix Vargas, chairman of the local community group Consejo Latino (Latino Council), sent to Attorney General Eric Holder this week argues a federal probe into the slaying of 35-year-old Antonio Zambardo-Montes is the only way to ensure a credible investigation into the actions of the officers.
"[It] appears inescapable that the lethal force applied by these police officers was excessive in the extreme and, as such, it constituted a violation of Mr. Zambrano’s constitutional rights," the letter reads. "For the sake of the community, we believe it is imperative that the U.S. Department of Justice assume control of the investigation immediately."
Citing previous and ongoing investigations concerning other recent police shootings in the area, Vargas explained that the conflict of interest for a local inquiry would be clear and said "any investigation of this killing conducted by fellow police officers will have no credibility whatsoever" among community members.
Zambrano-Montes's death was caught on tape in a cell phone video that went viral shortly after its release. In the 23-second footage, he is chased across the street, arms raised, by three police officers—Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz. Near the end of the video, he stops and turns around to face the officers, who then open fire.
(Warning: This video contains graphic content.)
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"Having mortally wounded him, the police proceeded to handcuff this dying man without rendering aid or even checking his pulse," the letter states.
The officers had been called to the scene to respond to Zambrano-Montes allegedly throwing rocks at passing cars. According to Vargas' letter, the police issued commands at Zambrano-Montes in English, which is not his native language.
Without intervention by the Justice Department, Vargas continued, those officers are unlikely to face charges. Local Special Investigations Unit (SIU) probes of three previous police shootings in Pasco all led to exoneration for the officers involved, Vargas noted in the letter. "Why would anyone believe that the local SIU investigation of the Zambrano killing will yield a different result?"
Vargas also pointed out that Flanagan has a record of civil rights abuse, having been sued for racial profiling and excessive force against a 30-year-old Hispanic woman in 2009.
The call to action is bolstered by the national Black Lives Matter movement and heightened scrutiny over police brutality in recent months following a spate of high-profile deaths and injuries of unarmed individuals across the country, as well as increased criticism of the judicial processes that have allowed officers involved to walk free.
Hundreds in southeastern Washington gathered over the weekend to protest the shooting, with additional demonstrations planned for Wednesday night.