Franklin Co. Coroner's Inquest delayed again after Columbia Coun - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Franklin Co. Coroner's Inquest delayed again after Columbia County Co. declines to participate

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PASCO, WA. -- It's almost been a year and a half since three Pasco Police officers shot and killed Antonio Zambrano after he threw rocks at officers. 

On Thursday, the Franklin County Coroner announced yet another delay in his plan to hold a rare coroner's inquest into the shooting.

Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel called a press conference Thursday morning to announce that Columbia County Coroner and Prosecutor Rea Culwell has pulled out of participating in Blasdel's inquest into the Pasco Police shooting of Antonio Zambrano. 

Culwell was supposed to help present the facts and question the witnesses during the inquest in place of Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant who declined to participate in the proceeding. 

Blasdel said Culwell stepped down because of personal convictions regarding the inquest, but declined to give specifics. We talked to Mrs. Culwell on the phone Thursday afternoon. She explained that she doesn't think the inquest jurors should answer the question of whether the shooting was justified or not, while Blasdel does.

She told us that she respects Blasdel's decision and his right to hold the proceeding. But as a prosecutor, Culwell also said she respects Prosecutor Sant's decision not to charge the three officers involved and that's why she stepped down.

"It's unfortunate but I think it's important that we do things right and that we make sure that we have the person qualified to present all the facts to the inquest jury," Coroner Blasdel said. 

During the press conference, Blasdel said the inquest should have been over months ago. Blasdel originally announced his plan to hold an inquest with a 6-person jury a day after the Zambrano shooting. But he's has faced opposition from local judges, Prosecutor Sant and county commissioners that has caused repeated delays. 

At one point, a radio host for a Spanish language talk show in Pasco stood up and said the Hispanic community in the Tri-Cities supports his decision. We talked to him afterward.  

"We stand in solidarity with him," Gabriel Pueblo said. "If he wants to look for transparency, that's what our community wants and we support his effort."

Blasdel says he is planning to replace Culwell with a local lawyer but declined to mention that person by name. 

The inquest is now planned to begin in August at Columbia Basin Community College.