By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) – The U.S. state of Washington has decided not to file criminal charges against the three police officers who fatally shot an undocumented Mexican farm worker in 2015 after he threw rocks at them and ran through a crowded intersection.
The killing of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in the southeastern farming hub of Pasco, captured on video by witnesses and shared widely online, sparked days of protests from the city’s majority Latino community and drew criticism from the Mexican government and human rights activists.
Zambrano’s death was among a series of police shootings across the United States that have put law enforcement agencies under scrutiny over their use of force against minorities.
In announcing his decision, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he determined the officers’ use of deadly force was justified under state law.
Even so, in a letter to the state’s governor, Jay Inslee, who had asked Ferguson’s office to review the shooting, Ferguson wrote that he was “deeply troubled by Mr. Zambrano-Montes’s death.”
“I believe that the use of deadly force in this case, though legally justified, was not the only possible way to protect the police and the public from his dangerous behavior,” he said.
His decision comes two weeks after the U.S. Justice Department – which also declined to file charges against the officers – said in a report that the Pasco Police Department needs to improve officer training on use-of-force, recruit more Hispanics and women, and increase the number of officers fluent in Spanish, among other criticisms.
Ferguson’s decision also mirrors the 2015 charging decision by a local prosecutor.
The City of Pasco and Police Department said in a statement that the state’s review of the case “helps with public confidence of the process” and also said that the department will continue “community outreach and trust-building efforts.”
An attorney for Zambrano’s family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Zambrano’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this year accusing the officers of excessive force.
The officers fired 17 shots at Zambrano after he ignored orders to stop throwing rocks and jogged across a busy intersection. He collapsed on the sidewalk after a volley of bullets, as several witnesses reacted with shock or anger.
The 35-year-old undocumented immigrant, who arrived in Washington state’s apple-growing belt seeking opportunity about a decade ago, battled drug use and homelessness in the months leading up to the shooting.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Michael Perry)
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