Why Does Former Pasco Officer Want Coroner Removed from Zambrano Inquest?
Harsh words were used by the attorney representing a former Pasco police officer involved in the February, 2015 fatal shooting of Antonio Zambrano, basically accusing Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel turning a proposed inquest into a 'clown show and circus.'
Kennewick attorney Scott Johnson filed papers in Franklin County Superior Court demanding Blasdel be removed from the upcoming inquest that will take place starting May 23 at CBC. Johnson filed them on behalf of former Officer Ryan Flanagan, who was one of three officers directly involved in the shooting.
The motion claims Basdel since day one has indicated bias in favor of the victim against police, and undermines confidence in the judicial system.
The papers said in part:
“From almost the moment the incident happened ... Blasdel expanded his limited role as a coroner, turning himself into a ringmaster of a self-made circus."
Johnson is demanding a judge take Blasdel's place in the event. He says because Blasdel is acting in a quasi judicial basis, he is required to appear fair and make sure he is not biased. Johnson says based upon comments made by Blasdel in the past, he doesn't believe he will be unbiased.
Blasdel countered by saying the Columbia County Prosecuting Attorney will be trying the inquest, which has no legal authority to prosecute-only advise is charges are necessary or not. He says that shows his non-bias.
However, Johnson pointed to comments from last September when Blasdel said there was "bad press" about the Pasco police department, and he wanted to do the inquest to make sure Pasco didn't turn into "another Ferguson." He had issued similar comments when he appeared on the Newstalk 870 talk show Meet In the Middle.
Many public officials including Franklin County Prosecutor Sean Sant, have voiced opposition to the inquest, and Sant will not participate. They believe it undermines the thorough investigation done by the SIU, or Special Investigations Unit led by Sgt. Ken Lattin of the Kennewick Police Department. Sant declined to prosecute the three officers directly involved. Flanagan is one of them, he resigned his post last summer.
Blasdel was also criticized for comments he made about hinting at hand-picking jurors, which is in violation of the law. He had said he wanted to see at least half of the jury be comprised of Hispanics. Blasdel said his statements were misinterpreted.
Sant has said the Zambrano family told him an inquest is not necessary, and there's been considerable public push back against the cost, which despite free use of a donated building at CBC, will still cost the county tens of thousands of dollars.