PASCO, Washington— Police in Pasco, Washington, say they don’t know who filmed the viral video that showed three officers fatally shooting an unarmed Mexican man last week, nor the device the person used, so they can’t use it as evidence.
"It's not enough for us to take [it] from YouTube," said Ken Lattin, a spokesperson for the Kennewick Police Department. "It has to be preserved forensically in order to be admitted as evidence."
Lattin urged the person who shot the video to come forward.
Other footage may prove more useful. The three officers involved in the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes were wearing microphones at the time, Lattin said, and there is dashcam video of the incident.
The dashcam video may clarify whether the officers addressed Zambrano-Montes in Spanish prior to the shooting, said Lattin, who spoke at a Thursday afternoon press briefing.
None of the officers were "certified Spanish speakers," Lattin said, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they did not attempt to communicate with Zambrano-Montes in the language.
The death of Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old undocumented immigrant born in Mexico, has generated outrage in the U.S. and in Mexico. The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave pending review.
A press release issued prior to the briefing named 16 officers from four separate departments—none of which are the Pasco Police Department—who are assisting in the investigation. Lattin said the investigative unit would "not jeopardize [its] own integrity" though he acknowledged that Pasco officers are "close" to investigators of the unit.
"The crime lab has placed this case as a top priority," the press release reads. No timeframe for completing the lab work was given.
Lattin said that video evidence from the case "continues to grow," citing close to 40 witnesses of the shooting. The majority of interviews have already been conducted, he noted, but they still have to be transcribed, which could take "weeks" to complete.
Other struggles with the investigation, he said, stem from the fact that the unit has been unable to account for what Zambrano-Montes was doing "hours, days, and weeks leading up to this incident." Friends and family have not proved helpful in this regard. "We need more," he said, adding that Zambrano-Montes' actions, which involved throwing rocks at passing cars and police officers, "were not normal."
Felix Vargas, chair of Consejo Latino, a local organization of Hispanic-owned businesses which often chimes in on social issues, says those comments from investigators are troubling.
"It's curious that when you ask them about the past of some of the officers, they say that information is not pertinent to the investigation," he said after the briefing. "But somehow what Zambrano was doing weeks before this incident is vital information."
"They are building credibility to assassinate [Zambrano-Montes'] character," Gabriel Portugal, also of Consejo Latino, said.
Earlier this week, the group called for the U.S. Department of Justice to initiate an investigation of its own. Vargas says he has spoken to the U.S. Attorney's Office of Eastern Washington, and that Michael Ormsby, the head of that office, will be coming to meet with officials and community members over the next few days.
"What we want is a full set of eyes on this case," Vargas said. "We fully expect charges to be brought [against the officers] and for justice to be served."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.