The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington on Wednesday issued a report critical of the Pasco Police Department, contending officers lack critical training, services for Spanish speakers are inadequate and the community doesn’t have any meaningful input into police practices.
The report (PDF) was released at a news conference in Pasco on the first anniversary of police officers shooting 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano-Montes. The unarmed orchard worker had been throwing rocks at police and passing vehicles before officers fired 17 shots at him.
At the time, witnesses said the man had a rock in his hand and may have tried to throw it at police, according to the Tri-City Herald local news website. The police department in Pasco — a city about 135 miles southwest of Spokane, released a statement Wednesday saying officers had been called in response to a complaint involving a disturbance in which a male was throwing rocks at cars.
The killing was captured on video and sparked weeks of peaceful protests in the agricultural city.
The Tri-City Herald reported on Wednesday that the 2014 police killings of Brad Jensen and Matthew Stoddard in Pasco were also criticized by the ACLU. All three men showed signs of behavior associated with mental distress or disorder, the report said.
The ACLU questioned whether Pasco police were prepared to effectively deal with emotional or mentally ill people.
“It is clear that the department’s policies are outdated and inadequate,” the report said. “The policies do not provide guidance about de-escalation nor adequate details to guide officers on when and how to decrease the use of force.”
Pasco city officials disagreed with the ACLU’s report, saying that group didn’t contact the city before issuing the report and failed to mention key improvements the police department has made since Zambrano-Montes’ death.
The department has beefed up training, made strides to improve community relations, revised some internal policies and hired more bilingual officers, Pasco police Chief Bob Metzger said.
“I appreciate what the ACLU has done,” Metzger said. “But I’m disappointed they didn’t talk to us before they (issued the report).” He added that the department has been making changes.
The ACLU said the 76-officer department has weak policies regarding use of force and no guide to de-escalate crisis situations. But city officials said the department has focused much of its recent training on de-escalation of crisis incidents, bolstered its review criteria on use of force and trained its officers on bias-free policing.
The city is also awaiting a review from the U.S. Department of Justice on its policies and procedures.
Also on Wednesday, the Latino Civic Alliance announced it would begin holding forums throughout Washington to “create a more healthy approach in working with law enforcement,” said Nina Martinez, the group’s chairwoman, according to the Tri-City Herald.
Al Jazeera with The Associated Press