By Thomas Clouse
A federal judge ruled Thursday in favor of the city of Spokane and granted a motion brought by the attorneys for Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to obtain Otto Zehm’s mental health records from a 2000 stay at Eastern State Hospital.
However, U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle said he will wait until later to determine whether Thompson gets to use those mental health records in his defense during the trial, which is currently set for June 2.
“Officer Thompson is entitled to offer evidence – including information which he was unaware at the time of the confrontation – as long as the evidence tends to make his version of the confrontation more probable,” Van Sickle wrote in part. “Information in Mr. Zehm’s psychiatric records arguably satisfies that standard.”
Thompson’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich, last week argued that Zehm had been off his medication for paranoid schizophrenia for several weeks prior to his March 18, 2006, confrontation with Thompson. Therefore, Oreskovich said, Zehm, a 36-year-old janitor, was already exhibiting characteristics of “excited delirium” before Thompson confronted him.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin argued that excited delirium is not a medically recognized term and only is used by police agencies to describe otherwise unexplainable deaths by persons when they are being taken into custody.
Durkin said Thursday that he could not discuss the case, and Oreskovich could not be reached late Thursday for comment.
“At this stage in the proceedings, the Court does not rule on the admissibility of the evidence sought by Officer Thompson,” Van Sickle wrote. “If, in fact, Mr. Zehm behaved in a defiant and aggressive manner on March 18, 2006, due to a lack of medication, Officer Thompson may have been justified in using force to subdue him.”
Past coverage: Thompson's defense wants Zehm's medical records