Spokane police Officer Tim Moses may invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if he's subpoened to testify in the excessive force trial of Officer Karl Thompson, who is charged in connection with the death of Otto Zehm.
Federal prosecutor Victor Boutros told U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle before opening statements today that Moses may use the 5th Amendment protection in refusing to answer some questions. Van Sickle said they'll deal with how to present him as a witness when he's called to testify later in the trial.
Boutros soon introduced Moses (pictured) to jurors in his opening statement. It was Moses, he said, who heard the “secret truth” from Thompson outside the Zip Trip that night: that, despite what he'd said in his initial statement, he had struck Zehm in the head and neck with his baton.
“What the defendant didn't know is that a series of events had taken place that would unravel the 'no strikes' lie,” Boutros said.
Thompson didn't think it would ever come out, Boutros told jurors, but it did - in a report sent with EMTs who rushed Zehm, already unconscious, to a hospital, where he died two days later.
It was what ultimately revealed to federal investigators Thompson's “web of lies,” Boutros said. (That report never made it to county prosecutors, who ruled Thompson's use of force justified, but an autopsy also showed evidence of baton strikes to Zehm's head.)
Jurors weren't told of Moses' possible intentions to plead the fifth.
Boutros' description of the “secret truth” came in an opening statement that kicked off what's expected to be a five-week trial.
Boutros began by telling jurors: “This is a case about a police officer who chose to strike first and ask questions later.”
He continued by describing Zehm as a man who always went to the Zip Trip to simply get a bottle of soda, prompting a swift objection from defense lawyer Carl Oreskovich, who said the statement violated a ruling that barred mention of the fact that Zehm was innocent of the alleged theft that prompted the police call.
The issue arose again twice in Boutros' statement, prompting Oreskovich to ask Van Sickle for a mistrial, which was denied. Read more about that in Yakima-based reporter Tom Clouse's story here.
Boutros told jurors that Thompson continued “to disgrace the badge” by lying about what happened. He said Thompson is not charged with causing Zehm's death, but that when he “brutally beat” him he broke the law.
Boutros said the suspicious circumstance call regarding Zehm was a “very common, low-priority type call that rarely results in arrest” and there was no reason for Thompson to believe Zehm posed a threat.
“Even the defendant admitted that, based on the call, he didn't have any reason to believe that the man at the ATM had committed any crime,” Boutros said. Boutros told jurors that a 7-year-old girl covers her ears as Zehm scream in pain from a Taser shock. Five years later, witnesses, including the girl who made the 911 call about Zehm, are haunted by police beating hm like that and will testify, Boutros said.
After the encounter, Thompson crafted a lie about Zehm lunging at him, and, at the end of the night “the defendant's lie about the lunge was in an email circulated to everyone” in the Spokane Police Department, Boutros said. Soon, Acting Police Chief Jim Nicks was on scene “unwittingly spreading the defendant's lies to the public.”
Soon, Thompson's close friend and fellow officer Sandra McIntyre (pictured) arrived at the Zip Trip.
She viewed the surveillance video and exclaimed out loud that Zehm never lunged, Boutros told jurors. She conferenced with Thompson outside, who Boutros said had four additional days to craft a new story for his official interview. He was even given a practice interview.
(Unbeknownst to jurors, McEntire is facing a grand jury investigation for her role in the case.)