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Franklin County Commission OKs Coroner's Inquest Into Pasco Shooting

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel on the steps of the Franklin County Courthouse on Wednesday, just after the county commission agreed to pay for his coroner's inquest into the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.

Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel has been fighting for a juried-review into the shooting of a Pasco, Washington, farmworker for more than a year. Wednesday, Franklin County officials promised they’d fund the inquest on the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.

A coroner’s inquest is an informational, fact-finding review of the case. It’s similar to a grand jury except it’s open to the public. There is no cross-examination.

County commissioners said they will pay as much as $32,000 for Blasdel’s inquest into the Pasco shooting. That’s a dramatic flip from just late January, when the commissioners issued a letter saying no way.

Blasdel said state law is behind him, and that the community has the right to make sure the police investigation of Zambrano-Montes’ death was done properly.

“I get calls, I get emails, I get texts, I get messages on social media,” Blasdel said. “The community wants this inquest.”

Now, Blasdel expects the inquest to start up by May and last for a couple weeks.

The evidence in the Zambrano-Montes case would be heard by six jurors from Franklin County and the decisions that the jury makes would not be binding. Even if the jury decided that the shooting was not justified, the county prosecutor would not be compelled to bring charges.

Pasco police officers shot Zambrano-Montes, in a crowded city intersection in February 2015 after he had been throwing rocks. The city of Pasco now faces two lawsuits involving the farmworker’s death.

This week in Olympia, the state legislature passed a bill demanding that counties’ superior courts schedule coroners’ inquests for a courtroom within 18 months of being notified. Now the measure goes to Governor Jay Inslee.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.