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Mexico denounces police killing of unarmed migrant worker in Washington state

President Enrique Peña Nieto lashed out Friday at what he called the “disproportionate use of lethal force” by police officers in Washington state that led to the death of an unarmed Mexican migrant.

Peña Nieto joined lawmakers in condemning the death of Antonio Zambrano Montes, a 35-year-old orchard worker who was slain by police officers in Pasco, Wash., on Tuesday. Video of the incident shows an unarmed Zambrano with his arms in the air slumping to the sidewalk after police officers open fire from a short distance away.

“I have ordered the Foreign Secretariat to offer support to the family . . . and to carefully follow the investigation into this lamentable and outrageous act,” Peña Nieto said.

Earlier in the day, the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Mexico’s Congress, condemned the shooting of Zambrano as an “act that outrages all Mexicans.”

“We voice our strongest condemnation of these acts of police brutality,” a statement from the leadership of the 500-seat legislative body said.

The statement followed a condemnation issued late Thursday by Mexico’s Foreign Secretariat, which accused Pasco police officers of using “disproportionate” force against Zambrano, who emigrated to the United States 10 years ago.

“The government of Mexico deeply condemns incidents in which force is used in a disproportionate manner, even more so when that use of force leads to loss of life,” the statement said.

A statement from the government of the Mexican state of Michoacan, where Zambrano grew up, called Zambrano’s death “murder.”

Three police officers in Pasco chased down Zambrano and shot him after he allegedly hurled rocks at automobiles and the officers. Pasco, in southeast Washington state, has a large community of Mexican residents.

Mexico’s Foro TV replayed video throughout the day of the confrontation between Zambrano and the officers, showing him running across the street away from the officers. The video showed Zambrano reaching an opposite sidewalk, where he turned toward the officers who had followed him, and lifting his arms as shots rang out. The cellphone video was taken by one of the 40 or so witnesses to the shooting.

Zambrano emigrated to the United States a decade ago and did not speak English, according to a statement by the bureau of migrants in Michoacan, the Pacific coast state where the victim was born and lived as a youth. Tens of thousands of Michoacan residents have left in recent decades in an immigrant pipeline for California and Washington state.

The Michoacan government called Zambrano’s death the result “of brutality and excessive force” by Pasco police. Zambrano was surrendering at the time he was shot, the statement said.

Zambrano’s sister, Yadira Zambrano Montes, demanded that the police officers face justice over her brother’s death.

“He wasn’t a criminal for them to kill him in this way,” she told the Reforma newspaper from her home in Colima state. “It’s very clear what happened. We couldn’t have more proof if it were in front of our face.”

The Mexican consul in Seattle, Eduardo Baca, wrote to Pasco Police Chief Robert Metzger on Thursday demanding a “thorough investigation” into what he called the “unwarranted use of lethal force” that led to Zambrano’s death.

In a letter Friday responding to Baca, Metzger said his department had “taken immediate steps to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.”

Metzger said the three officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, which he said was being conducted by 15 investigators from the Benton and Franklin county sheriffs departments, the Washington State Patrol and city police departments in Kennewick and Richland.

“The Pasco Police Department is not a part of the investigation team to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. We have no input in the process nor can we influence the result,” Metzger said in his letter.

Mexico’s Foreign Secretariat has repeatedly issued statements protesting the killing of unarmed Mexican migrants along the border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol agents, and it has also protested when municipal law enforcement officials have slain its nationals. It claims no federal or local agent has been brought to justice for more than a dozen such killings since 2010.

The strong reaction from Mexican officials contrasted with the cautious approach of authorities in Washington state, where some apparently feared public anger could surge as it did after a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shot and killed an unarmed black teenager Aug. 9. When a grand jury decided against charging the officer, protests erupted in major U.S. cities.

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