Witnesses Describe Escalation That Preceded Pasco Police Shooting

Jul 2, 2015

People who knew Antonio Zambrano-Montes said he had been sad and depressed in the months before his death in Pasco, Washington. He was shot in February by police after witnesses say he had been throwing rocks at a busy intersection.

The Franklin County prosecutor has not announced a decision about whether officers would be charged in his death, but the prosecutor's office released interview recordings, eyewitness videos and hundreds of pages of investigatory documents Wednesday.

Hard Time With Work

Zambrano-Montes' aunt Angelita Zambrano told police investigators it had been nine years since he had seen his daughters, ages 15 and 12. Yet she said he told her many times that he would not want to die without hearing them once more on the phone.

"He didn’t," Angelita Zambrano told investigators in Spanish. "He went away with that pain."

Angelita Zambrano told police her nephew had been hard-working, and that he had been having difficulty getting paid what was owed him at work. She said he had broken both hands a few months earlier from a fall off a ladder as he was working in a field.

"What strength could he have in two hands? His broken hands," she told detectives. "What could he do to three policemen?"

Angelita Zambrano said her nephew had not been mentally ill or deaf as some had reported. She said he had been depressed. A cousin of Zambrano-Montes said the depression had mainly been a result of his injury.

Angelita Zambrano said her nephew had called her just days before his death to say he was looking for work.

"I asked him, 'where are you, honey?' He said, 'Here in Pasco, auntie.'"

"He was, he said, looking for work," Angelita Zambrano told detectives. "I’m telling you that he was going to start working, like, the week after."

His cousin Jose Medina-Zambrano and his brother had seen him around 3:20 on February 10, walking down the street in Pasco. They didn't stop to speak to their cousin because they needed to be on time to pick up a child. But Medina-Zambrano told detectives that even without speaking to him he noticed an improvement in his cousin's demeanor: "He seemed like an ordinary person."

"He seemed much better than how he was, you know."

He Didn’t Seem To Be 'In His Right Mind'

Kristy Baker told a Kennewick police officer she was driving on February 10 around 4:30 p.m. when she saw Zambrano-Montes jaywalk in front of her. She initially thought he was rude, but as she continued to watch him she noticed he didn’t seem to be "in his right mind."

"He was hitting his head…and then he was waving his arms around," Baker said, "above his head, like he was striking out at something."

Veronica Rivera told a Kennewick police detective at the scene that she and her companions had been driving by when they saw a man swinging at a lone police officer.

Stephen Gillihan, who had been driving through the parking lot at the nearby Fiesta Foods store, said he watched as Zambrano-Montes picked up a rock and threw it at the officer.

"Then he threw another rock at him, missed him, then he picked up another rock," said Gillihan, who described the rocks as substantial in size. Officer Ryan Flanagan said when he was interviewed about three months later some of the rocks had been as large as baseballs and that he believed one of them could kill him. Flanagan resigned in June.

Police car video shows Zambrano-Montes throwing objects at police officers. At one point he chased an officer with a rock in his hand according to the report. An officer was seen dodging an object. However, a forensic analysis of a light colored scuff on one of the officers’ uniform pant legs did not match any cement pieces or rocks found at the scene.

Moments later two other officers arrived. Flanagan and Officer Adrian Alaniz deployed their Tasers and made contact with Zambrano-Montes. Alaniz triggered his Taser six times according to a log on the device. The longest was nine seconds in duration.

Rivera said the Taser barbs had little effect.

"He was just like pulling [the barbs out], he was like picking up rocks from the floor, like little pebbles, trying to throw them … so they just kept trying to Tase him," Rivera said in her recorded statement. Two Taser probes were found in his body, one in his left forearm and one in the back of his head.

Rivera said Zambrano-Montes seemed like he was "high."

A toxicology report found methamphetamine in the amount of .85 mg/L. By comparison the crime lab scientists say that number is higher than the median number in death investigations involving meth and DUI investigations in Washington. Zambrano-Montes' cousin told detectives he had used the drug when he had been depressed.

Mark Faith told a Kennewick police detective that when he first saw Zambrano-Montes wasn’t complying and had rocks and dirt clods in his hand, the situation initially seemed "fairly under control."

But, he said, it escalated.

"Then as more and more officers responded," Faith said, "that’s when it for me it had the feeling that things were…not as controlled as they were."

Three Officers, Seventeen Shots

Rivera said the officers were yelling at Zambrano-Montes to "get down, get down" but instead he crossed the street. That’s when she and other witnesses said the officers first opened fire, just over three minutes after police arrived on the scene.

"All of a sudden we heard bam, bam, bam," Rivera said.

The crime lab made a three-dimensional re-creation of the bullet trajectories from the incident. Investigators said it wasn’t clear how many times officers struck him in that first volley, but investigators determined he was hit then.

But Rivera said Zambrano-Montes continued to cross the street. When he got to the other side, there was another confrontation.

"He continues to turn around, confront them and I think he still had a rock," said Gillihan describing Zambrano-Montes as "aggressive."

As Zambrano-Montes moved away from the officers, they opened fire again.

"They’re all telling him to get down," said Gillihan. Officer Alaniz and another witness said they heard Zambrano-Montes tell police to kill him.

"They [the three officers] were all, 'just shoot him, just shoot him,'" Rivera told the officer interviewing her.

"He gets about 40 feet [away]," Gillihan said, "and then they all let him have it."

"(Zambrano-Montes) was, like, walking with his back to [them]," Rivera said, "and all they did was just bam, bam, bam, bam, and shot him down."

"He was just trying to get away," she said, "when the cops just ended it."

Police submitted multiple pieces of cement and rocks found at the scene to the crime lab. Zambrano-Montes’ DNA was found on a rock and piece of cement. Investigators say the rock had blood spatters on, as if he had been holding it when he was shot. Zambrano-Montes was observed dropping a rock after the second round of shots.

In her interview Rivera was clearly upset that the officers had decided to shoot Zambrano-Montes. She called him "the victim." She said he was just throwing pebbles.

"Not enough for them to [expletive] kill him," she said. "That's not right."

Asked by the detective if Zambrano-Montes posed a threat to the officers, Gillihan said, "I think the officer considered him a threat to somebody else. It was an opportunity to take this guy down without getting citizens hurt."

State forensic scientists concluded that three officers fired a total of 17 rounds in two separate volleys. Zambrano-Montes was struck seven times. One bullet was recovered from his spine.

Blood stains and several pools of blood were found at the scene, along with what's believed to be pieces of Zambrano-Montes’ broken belt buckle.

the U.S. Department of Justice called the shooting "tragic" in a news release in May. DOJ has kicked off a year of training and community relations programs with Pasco police. The Justice Department has rolled out similar programs in Seattle, Spokane and Ferguson, Missouri. 

The Franklin County prosecutor is scheduled to release more investigatory data July 8.

Sandra Gutierrez and Olivia Weitz contributed to this report.