Washington state police shot 17 times at Hispanic man accused of throwing rocks

Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez
A Mexican man accused of hurling rocks at cars and police officers was shot at a total of 17 times, Washington state police revealed Wednesday. He was hit by five or six of the shots during a controversial confrontation that spawned protests in the area.

According to Reuters, Kennewick Police Sergeant Ken Lattin confirmed that all three officers responding to the scene fired their weapons at 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano-Montes, an unemployed orchard worker and Mexican national who was reportedly throwing rocks at vehicles at a busy intersection when law enforcement arrived. He had spent the last 10 years in Pasco, Washington, and also had two daughters.

READ MORE: Pasco, Wash. braces for its ‘Ferguson moment’ after Hispanic man shot by police

Lattin added that it’s unclear whether Zambrano-Montes, whose record indicated drug use in the past, suffered from any physical or mental issues, though investigators are looking into the situation.

"Did he have some sort of injury? Did he have some mental health situations that he was dealing with in the days and hours (before the incident)? Or was he under the influence of drugs? We need to know," Lattin said.

Caught on tape via a smartphone recording, the shooting unfolded earlier this month after police made their way to an intersection in downtown Pasco, where reports were coming in about a man tossing rocks at passing vehicles. Zambrano-Montes then reportedly threw rocks at the three responding officers – two of whom were injured and treated at the scene – before he was chased across the street.

As he ran away from police, the video shows Zambrano-Montes with his hands up and in front of him. Police said he did not respond to their orders to surrender. At one point in the video, he turns around to face the officers, who then fatally shoot him on the sidewalk. Officials said stun guns were also used prior to the shooting, to no effect.

Zambrano-Montes turned out to be unarmed, and several witnesses said they believed police overreacted.

“I could not believe they were shooting guns. There were cars and people everywhere,” Pasco resident Benjamin Patrick said at the time.

“I am really upset about what I saw,” he added. “Yes, he was resisting. Yes, he was wrong. But it looked like there might be something wrong with him. And he wasn’t hurting anyone. He had a rock, not a gun. It seems it could have been handled differently.”

All three officers have been placed on administrative leave until officials conclude their investigation.

READ MORE: Mexico condemns shooting of man by Washington State cops for throwing rocks

According to local KNDO, this wasn’t the first run-in between police and Zambrano-Montes. In 2014, officers responded to complaints that he was striking cars with a broom. When police arrived to deal with the situation, Zambrano-Montes allegedly threw items at the officers, including a rocking chair, before attempting to take one of their guns. He was sent to a hospital and treated for methamphetamine use.

The fatal shooting sparked a wave of protests from residents in the area – composed primarily of Hispanics – who view the event as a case of police brutality. Some have even compared it to the controversial police shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City.

It also drew criticism from the Mexican Foreign Affairs Ministry.

“The government of Mexico deeply condemns incidents in which force is used in a disproportionate manner, even more so when that use of force leads to loss of life,” the ministry said in a statement. “These unfortunate events cause damage to the community and erode trust in the authorities.”