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Court to review handling of cases involving Jorge Zambrano

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Bullet holes riddled a window of the Oxford house where Jorge Zambrano was killed.Jessica Rinaldi

AUBURN — The man who allegedly shot and killed an Auburn police officer Sunday had assaulted a Worcester police officer in January, the third such alleged attack over a long criminal history, but was spared jail time and had been ordered to undergo mental health counseling.

Jorge Zambrano, 35, who was killed during a shootout with police after allegedly killing Officer Ronald Tarentino, had a criminal career spanning 18 years, including 27 cases ranging from drug and weapons offenses to driving infractions.

On Monday, Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey pledged a review of the court's handling of Zambrano's past and pending cases.

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"We are carefully examining all of the circumstances regarding Jorge Zambrano's criminal history in order to determine whether additional systemic steps should have been taken in his case," Carey said. The Worcester district attorney's office is also reviewing Zambrano's district court cases, according to a spokesman, Tim Connolly.

Zambrano had been arrested six times since being released from prison in November 2013, court records show. According to his lawyer, Zambrano had been attending outpatient counseling sessions since April, a condition of his probation for the assault case.

"He had some impulse control problems," Worcester attorney Anthony Scola, who represented Zambrano in several cases, said in a telephone interview Monday. "That's what they were hoping to address."

When he last saw Zambrano about 10 days ago at a court hearing, he appeared to be doing well, Scola said, and showed no signs of erratic behavior.

"I never could have imagined this," said Scola, who also knew Tarentino and described him as a "real nice guy."

Zambrano wounded a State Police trooper in a shootout with police in Oxford on Sunday evening, authorities said.

Zambrano, who served seven years behind bars for cocaine trafficking and other charges, was released after the alleged assault in January, and then again after he was accused of attacking his girlfriend in Clinton, according to court records. Both charges were misdemeanors.

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In the alleged assault in January, a Worcester police officer reported that Zambrano "did grab my uniform shirt and pull me into his vehicle," where he had a large pit bull, according to court records.

Zambrano was removed from his car and refused to put his hands behind his back in an effort to avoid being handcuffed, according to a police report. He was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

Scola said Zambrano was sleeping in his car and was startled when police woke him up, and "probably overreacted a little."

In March, a district judge continued Zambrano's case for a year without a finding and ordered him to undergo mental health counseling and drug and alcohol screening, based on a joint recommendation by prosecutors and the defense.

"The defendant had already served seven years in prison," said Connolly, who added that prosecutors thought mental health treatment, along with drug screenings, might help Zambrano.

Former Boston police commissioner Edward Davis, now a private security consultant, said Monday night that judges have to consider a defendant's "propensity for violence" at sentencing.

"Attacking police officers is a good indicator that you've got somebody who's a real problem," Davis said in reference to Zambrano's prior arrest for allegedly assaulting police.

"There are some people who are not amenable to counseling," said Davis, whose security clients include The Boston Globe. "When you see a repeat record of violent activity, then you have to get really tough with a person like that and get them off the street."

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In the alleged attack on his girlfriend in February, she and Zambrano were rushing back to Worcester to pick her son up at his school bus stop when her car broke down, Scola said. He said the girlfriend was screaming while Zambrano ran to a gas station to get help, and passersby mistakenly thought they were fighting.

Prosecutors asked a judge to set bail at $2,500, Connolly said, but instead it was set at $500. Zambrano posted it and was released. That case is still pending.

After he was released, Zambrano admitted to probation officials that he had recently used cocaine and suboxone, a violation of his release, Scola said. He was allowed to remain free.

"He was a kid brought up on the tough side of the street," Scola said. "He did some serious time . . . While we were in court everybody wanted to get him some mental health counseling and they thought that would help."

Before Sunday, Zambrano had also been charged on two other occasions with assaulting a police officer, court records show. He was charged in December 2007 with two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery on a police officer in Worcester, but state records listed that disposition as "non-conviction."

In February 2008, he was charged with two more counts of the same offense in Worcester and was later convicted of those assaults, as well as drug offenses.

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While imprisoned for cocaine trafficking in 2012, Zambrano represented himself in a civil court case, in which he sued Boston criminal attorney David Cataldo. Zambrano alleged that Cataldo failed to adequately represent him in the cocaine case, which led to Zambrano serving 4½ years in jail before his conviction.

The lawsuit, disposed in 2014, attempted to cast Zambrano as a man irreparably hurt by exposure to prison.

"I suffered loss of sleep, headaches, mental anguish, [physical] pain . . . .[sick] to my stomach to the point of developing an ulcer," Zambrano said.

In July 2014, Zambrano was sued by his child's mother, who alleged that he was not adequately paying child support. The case was brought to a voluntary conclusion months later, when the two parents agreed on a resolution that involved the mother forgoing her owed payments from Zambrano, while he promised to pay consistently going forward.

While Zambrano was frequently arrested, he also challenged police authority to take him into custody on at least one occasion.

In 2010, he joined several other pretrial detainees at Worcester County Jail and House of Correction in filing a federal lawsuit against city police. The men were not represented by counsel in the lawsuit, which was quickly dismissed.

Zambrano and the other plaintiffs alleged that the Worcester Police Department was "a state-sanctioned 'gang' that violates the 'entire Constitution on a daily basis' " and misuses informants in a way that encourages drug use, wrote US District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV.

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Saylor dismissed the suit months after it was filed, writing that "the allegations in this case are patently frivolous."

Zambrano racked up a number of disciplinary infractions while in state custody, according to a list provided Monday by the Massachusetts Department of Correction.

His violations included marijuana possession and refusing a direct order to be placed in restraints, leading to the use of force in 2011; two counts each of possessing a home brew and refusing a housing assignment in 2012; destroying a mattress, possessing a 5-inch piece of plexi-glass, two counts of fighting with inmates, and again possessing a home brew in 2013, the DOC said.

In a fight with another inmate, officers had to use force to separate the two men. In another fight with three other inmates, guards had to use a chemical agent to stop the fracas, according to the DOC.

"He was a high risk for violence and recidivism," said DOC spokesman Christopher M. Fallon in an e-mail. "He completed criminal thinking and computer skills and attended motivational enhancement. He had a prior state sentence for drugs, from which he was released in 2007. No issues during that incarceration."

Zambrano also had a checkered driving history, according to the state Department of Transportation. His license has not been valid since 2002, and his record included a four-year license revocation through January 2019 for being a habitual traffic offender.

Zambrano was charged May 16 with driving with a revoked license and license plates not registered to the car, police said. He was driving the same car when pulled over Sunday, police said.


Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph. Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.