- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - It could be summer before a coroner’s inquest is held in the February police shooting death of an unarmed Mexican migrant, a prosecutor in eastern Washington said.

In addition, Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant once again defended himself to a Hispanic group amid calls that he step aside and allow a special prosecutor to take over the case.

Sant told the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs on Friday and Consejo Latino on March 12 that he is treating the fatal shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes by three Pasco police officers the same as every other homicide investigation.

“While I provide legal advice as needed throughout the investigation, I do not interview witnesses, collect or test any evidence as this is the job of law enforcement,” Sant said in letters to chairmen of both groups that were acquired by The Associated Press.

He said it could take months before his office begins considering possible charges against the three officers who fired 17 bullets at Zambrano-Montes in a busy intersection. He was hit at least five times. Zambrano-Montes was throwing rocks at officers and acting erratically, authorities said. His death was captured on a widely circulated video and sparked weeks of protests.

Sant is awaiting reports from the Special Investigative Unit assigned to the case because it involves officers, he said in an email Tuesday.

“It will take at least 60 days after receipt of all reports to prepare for the coroner’s inquest,” he said. “After the inquest we will review whether any charges are appropriate. We may have reports in two or three weeks, but no guarantee. We are also awaiting reports on the second and third autopsies.”

Tight schedules involving other inquests are also a factor, he said.

“Realistically with the schedule of other homicide cases set to go May 27 and June 24, the inquest will likely be in July or August time frame,” he said.

While Sant waits, the two groups asked Gov. Jay Inslee to force the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor. Inslee said last week the county prosecutor has a legal duty to handle criminal offenses in the jurisdiction and he sees no reason to take Sant off the case.

The groups also asked Attorney General Bob Ferguson directly to appoint a special prosecutor, saying Sant has “conveyed the impression that he had taken the side of the police officers” at media appearances.

Sant said those appearances were intended to make it easier to distribute information.

The groups questioned whether Sant could be impartial because he used to work as a police officer and has a close relationship with the police in his role as a prosecutor.

Sant cited his service and the values he learned in the Air Force: “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.”

Sant, 45, took his current position on Jan. 1, 2011. In addition to once being a police officer, he was a defense lawyer and public defender. He said that experience enables him to be impartial in criminal cases.

He also said he is not involved in the review of the officers’ conduct being done by the Pasco Police Department.

Alison Dempsey-Hall, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said Ferguson has received messages from the public and copies of letters to the governor and Sant asking him to take a role in the case. He has not responded to those requests and a has no official legal role in the case, she said. Under state law, he can only get involved at the request of the governor or the county prosecutor. Both have said they won’t make that request.


Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle

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