Wa. Supreme Court Cites Racist Questioning, Overturns Conviction
A Moses Lake man is now cleared of wrongdoing after the state Supreme Court tossed out his assault conviction Thursday, and sharply criticized the conduct of the prosecuting attorney.
During jury selection for Robert Zamora, former Grant County Prosecutor Garth Dano continually asked about illegal immigration and border security — even though Zamora was a U.S. citizen on trial for something entirely different.
The court said the questions reflected racist stereotypes to a level where Zamora's right to a fair trial had been violated.
It's unanimous decision released Thursday overturned both trial and appeals court findings.
The high court pointed out that Dano's questioning about immigration during jury selection had nothing to do with Zamora's trial for assault.
"This case was not remotely related to immigration—lawful or unlawful, the court said in its decision. "This case had nothing to do with borders or border security. Any mention of border security, immigration, undocumented immigrants, and drug smuggling was wholly irrelevant."
The Supreme Court also question the lower court's ruling that Zamora was guilty of two counts of Assault.
Court records show Zamora was confronted by Moses Lake Police on the night of February 5, 2017 at about 9:30 p.m. He was walking through snow to his niece’s house when a neighbor called the police to report a possible vehicle prowler.
After an officer determined that Zamora might have been armed with a weapon, a struggle ensued.
"Ultimately, eight officers were involved in subduing Zamora," wrote justices in the Supreme Court decision. "When responding paramedics arrived, Zamora was handcuffed, hog-tied, and lying face down in the snow with two officers restraining him; he had no heartbeat or pulse. It took the paramedics seven minutes to revive him. Zamora was taken to the hospital and remained in intensive care for approximately four weeks."
Zamora was convicted of assaulting two officers, both of which reported minor injuries to their hands.
One officer's injuries were reportedly the result of punching Zamora in the back of the head multiple times.
Chief Justice Steven González noted that “the jury was asked to decide, among other things, whether Joseph Zamora, a United States citizen, assaulted a police officer’s knuckles with the back of his head.”
The Supreme Court's decision stated, "this was a prosecution where a citizen’s mistaken report of vehicle prowling led to a violent altercation with police officers that almost resulted in the death of the defendant who was guilty of nothing more than walking while high on drugs."
Dano was elected as Grant County Prosecuting Attorney in 2014. He resigned in December, citing personal reasons.