After the encounter that led to Otto Zehm's death, Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson told an investigator he didn't feel deadly force was needed against the suspect.
In a recorded interview with now-retired Spokane police Detective Terry Ferguson that was played for jurors today, Thompson said his first intent to was strike Zehm in the leg his baton “to be able to buckle his leg and put him on the ground.”
“I had deadly force available but i did not perceive this as a deadly threat,” Thompson said, adding that he wanted to continue issuing verbal commands.
But, as prosecutors have told jurors, Thompson repeatedly struck Zehm in the head with a baton, which is considered deadly force.
The recording outlines what prosecutors have said was nothing but a lie from Thompson — that Zehm lunged at him and fought with him using a plastic soda bottle.
In the interview with Ferguson, Thompson, who is now on trial in Yakima for allegedly violating Zehm's civil rights and lying to investigators, said Zehm posed a physical threat.
“His whole body suggested that it was tense and prepared to respond either by pushing, throwing or charging me,” Thompson said.
Thompson said Zehm was screaming and groaning like someone with “a high level of commitment to resisting or attacking.”
He said Zehm took a “boxing stance” and threw punches, so Thompson hit anywhere he could with the baton, except the head. Thompson claimed Zehm stood up after being shocked with a Taser, which surveillance video disputes.
“He's standing there boxing with both fists, throwing punches,” Thompson said.
Ferguson asks: “Did he hit you?”
“Yes. He hit me,” Thompson responds.
Thompson said he was finally able to use his radio and knew Spokane police Officer Steve Braun was close by. But Zehm was still kicking, Thompson said. So when Braun arrived “I told him, 'use your baton. Start hitting him.'”
Braun shocked Zehm with a Taser, but it had no effect, so Thompson directed his fellow officer to deploy the Taser on Zehm's neck.
Thompson looked around the store for his baton before realizing it was on his holster, he said in the recording. He said Zehm was still “resisting extremely forcefully” as police responded. Soon, he heard an officer say, “He's not breathing.”
Thompson again told Ferguson that he had no reason to shoot Zehm.
“Had he tried to get my gun that clearly would have been a a deadly force issue to me…but he did not,” Thompson said. Thompson said it was important to detain Zehm for questioning.
“We had at the very least a felony of assault on an officer,” Thompson said.