‘Race-Based Misconduct’ by Prosecutor Led to Long Legal Saga for Man Nearly Beaten to Death by Police

Getty Images

By The Vanguard Staff

EPHRATA, WA – An “almost-seven-year legal saga,” according to the Seattle Times, ended this week after a judge here dismissed charges against Joesph Zamora—he was nearly beaten to death in 2017 by police—and ruled the Grant County prosecutor acted “vindictively.” 

Earlier court rulings by the state Supreme Court called the first prosecutor actions “race-based misconduct.”

Continuing with the case against Zamora would be “damaging to the justice system,” Grant County Superior Court Judge Tyson Hill said, the ST wrote.

In the words of Washington’s chief justice, Zamora “assaulted a police officer’s knuckles with the back of his head,” and the case has led to one elected prosecutor being formally reprimanded and his successor informally chastised for their conduct in the case.

Said the Times, “It has seen Zamora’s body permanently scarred from the events of that night and the four weeks he spent in a coma afterward, and it has seen his psyche scarred by the beating and its long, long aftermath in the criminal legal system.” 

Six years ago, Zamora “almost died after Moses Lake Police beat him outside of his niece’s home,” wrote the ST, and, although the Washington State Supreme Court tossed Zamora’s convictions, he still served 22 months in prison. 

“The court finds Zamora has presented sufficient facts showing a realistic likelihood of vindictiveness,” Hill wrote in a 14-page decision. “The perception of this case, should it go forward, would be more damaging to the justice system than the potential benefit of returning two convictions to Zamora’s record.”

The Seattle Times said the judge dismissed the assault charges with prejudice, and thereby cannot ever bring the charges again. The judge also found Grant County Prosecutor Kevin McCrae’s actions were “likely an effort to penalize Zamora for using his legally protected right to appeal his conviction.”

“This case tested my faith in the justice system,” Zamora said in a statement through his lawyers, noting he spent weeks in the ICU, nearly two years in prison and “sleepless nights” after being charged again. “I’m so glad that this is over so I can focus on healing and spending time with my family,” he said.

Mark Middaugh, just one of five Seattle criminal-defense and civil-rights lawyers who joined the case pro bono, replacing a public defender—after previous Seattle Times coverage of the case —said the team was “thrilled for Joe that his nightmare is finally over,” the ST story said.

“In spite of everything he went through, Joe had the courage to press his appeal to our state’s highest court,” Middaugh said. “As a result, Washington has a new, tougher standard to keep our courts free of prosecutorial race-based misconduct. Our justice system will be better off because of Joe’s resolve.”

The Seattle Times wrote, “Zamora was walking to his niece’s home on Super Bowl Sunday in 2017, when, after a neighbor mistakenly believed he was prowling through cars, Moses Lake police beat, pepper-sprayed, Tased, kicked and hogtied him so severely that his heart stopped and he spent six weeks in the hospital.

“The officer who led the beating had previously been chastised for using excessive force when de-escalation tactics were available. He’d also had several run-ins with the law himself and just a few months later resigned after he was charged with assault and disorderly conduct in a bar fight.

“Zamora was charged and convicted of two counts of assaulting an officer and served 22 months in prison. He appealed his conviction to the state Supreme Court, arguing that Garth Dano, Grant County’s elected prosecutor at the time, committed race-based misconduct at the trial.

“Dano, during jury selection for the trial, had asked potential jurors questions about illegal immigration, a border wall, and crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. Zamora, a U.S. citizen, was born in Pasco (WA).”

The ST added the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal and ruled unanimously Dano had committed race-based misconduct. The justices threw out Zamora’s convictions. In their decision, they created a new legal standard in Washington: “A prosecutor has committed misconduct if an objective observer, aware of America’s history of race discrimination, could view their behavior as appealing to racial prejudice.”

“The apparent purpose of [Dano’s] remarks was to highlight the defendant’s perceived ethnicity and invoke stereotypes,” Justice Charles Johnson wrote for the court. “The state-sanctioned invocation of racial or ethnic bias in the justice system is unacceptable.”

The Seattle Times said, “Dano was later reprimanded by the Washington State Bar Association for discriminating on the basis of race or national origin, and ordered to pay a fine and attend legal education classes. McCrae was chastised in a concurring opinion from Chief Justice Steven González for ‘disingenuous’ conduct in defending Dano.”

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for