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Three police officers in Pasco, Washington shot at unarmed Mexican immigrant Antonio Zambrano-Montes 17 times after he threw rocks at them, according to a police investigation into the man's death earlier this month. The February 10 killing has caused widespread outrage in Zambrano-Montes's community and is being pointed to as another example of police brutality against minorities.
Investigators said at least 5-6 of the fired bullets hit orchard worker Zambrano-Montes, 35, who died at the scene of the intersection where witnesses filmed him running from police and even briefly lifting his arms before the officers shot him to death.
The Tri-Cities Special Investigations Unit, assigned to look into the shooting death, announced their findings Wednesday amid continued protests and international condemnation that has followed the killing.
Kennewick Police Department Special Investigation Unit spokesman Sergeant Ken Lattin indicated to reporters on Wednesday that "from the preliminary autopsy report, there were no shots in the back."
The incident reportedly began when police responded to a call that a man was throwing rocks at cars at an intersection, including one stone that was at least the size of a baseball, Paso Police Chief Bob Metzger said in a statement in the days following the shooting.
Metzger said when officers arrived on the scene, they asked Zambrano-Montes to put down the rocks, but he did not respond to the requests. Officers then reportedly used a Taser on him, a move he was unresponsive to. Police eventually opened fire on Zambrano-Montes. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Pasco officers Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright, and Adrian Alaniz have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the case, but have reportedly not been interviewed yet, Sergeant Lattin told reporters Wednesday.
"It would be premature… to sit down and interview those three officers at this time. The investigator needs to have the whole picture, to ask the right questions," Lattin said, according to KHQ-TV.
Cell phone footage of the shooting posted to social media appears to show Zambrano-Montes fleeing police before turning and raising his hands, which is when officers appear to shoot him multiple times.
The video has prompted the Mexican Foreign Ministry and activist groups to condemn the shooting as an example of police abuse of power in the US.
Last week, local activist group Consejo Latino called on the Department of Justice to take over the official investigation into the death — a sentiment echoed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union and other anti-police brutality activists.
Mexico's congress has called the shooting an "act that outrages all Mexicans." The country's President Enrique Peña Nieto also condemned the officers' "disproportionate use of lethal force" during the deadly incident.
More than half of Pasco's population of 68,000 is Hispanic, and the latest police shooting — the third reported in the city since July — has reportedly further inflamed racial tensions between the city's mostly white officials and residents.
According to the New York Times, there are currently 14 Hispanic officers serving on Pasco's 68-member police force, and residents had previously raised concerns about the language barrier between citizens and cops.
Zambrano-Montes, a father of two, came to Washington about a decade ago as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and did not speak English, family members told the Times. He had apparently been arrested for assaulting police at least once before, in January 2014. During that altercation, he reportedly attempted to take a cop's gun and also threw objects at officers.
In the letter from Consejo Latino, Chairman Colonel Felix Vargas wrote that Zambrano-Montes "may have suffered from mental illness and some substance abuse."
The family of Zambrano-Montes has filed a $25 million claim against the city of Pasco. On Monday, Benjamin Crump, a civil rights lawyer who also represents the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice said he would also be taking on the Zambrano-Montes family's case.