ACLU Calls for Changing State Law on Prosecuting Police for Killings

Thursday, September 10, 2015

ACLU Response to Prosecutor’s Decision Not to Charge Pasco Officers in Death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.

The Franklin County prosecutor yesterday announced that the Pasco police officers who shot Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a man who had been throwing rocks, will not be prosecuted for killing him. The prosecutor said that the incident did not meet the high standard for criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers under state law, which requires a showing that the officers acted with malice and without good faith.

“The prosecutor’s statement clearly shows the need to amend our state law for use of deadly force by law enforcement. The current law makes prosecutors exceedingly unwilling to file charges against police and thereby makes it almost impossible to hold police accountable for wrongfully killing civilians,” said ACLU of Washington executive director Kathleen Taylor. “Society entrusts law enforcement officers with weapons and the authority to use deadly force. With that trust comes the duty to use that authority with very great care,” said Taylor.

“Officers have a responsibility to use deadly force only when absolutely necessary to protect themselves or others against serious bodily harm. Whenever possible, they should find ways to de-escalate encounters with civilians and use alternatives to deadly force.”

Prosecutors should not be limited to bringing charges only in cases where they believe that the officer acted with “malice.” Officers should be permitted to use deadly force only when they make a reasonable assessment that they or others are at serious risk of death or severe bodily harm and that there is no other available means to prevent death or severe bodily harm.

“The circumstances surrounding Antonio Zambrano’s shooting death by law enforcement officers were captured on video. The incident shows that cameras alone are not sufficient to bring accountability to law enforcement. State law must be revised to enable prosecutors to hold police officers more accountable for use of deadly force,” said ACLU-WA deputy director Jennifer Shaw.