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Sirens & Gavels

Teen describes Zehm/Thompson encounter

Spokane resident Britni Brashers was 13 in March 2006 when she and her younger sister went to a Spokane convenience stores to buy a few things. She ended up being a witness to one of most controversial police encounters in city history.

“He walked in and stared looking at the items like any other person,” Brashers told jurors of Otto Zehm, who lost consciousness at the store during an encounter with police officer Karl Thompson. He died two days later.
Thompson arrived soon after Zehm, moving “very quickly, very frantically,” Brashers said.

“He just approached him without saying anything and just swung back and hit him,” Brashers said.

Zehm, she said, “was just screaming in agony…just moaning and groaning in pain.”

Brashers saw him holding pop bottle on ground while he was laying with stomach down but said she never saw him threaten police with it. Nor did Zehm ever take a “boxing stance” or get off the ground after the first Taser shock, Brashers told jurors.

Defense lawyer Stephen Lamberson used a mini replica of the Zip Trip store to imply that Brashers had a limited view of the encounter.

He asked Brashers why other witnesses reported hearing verbal commands when she said she heard none.

“It kind of surprises me,” Brashers said of the other witness claims. “Because i didn't hear anything and I was paying good attention to it.”

Lamberson asked: “But you don't know where those baton strikes landed?” to which Brashers responded: “I know it was in the upper body

Lamberson emphasized that the sounds Brashers heard Zehm make may have been out of anger and resistance, not pain. He said Brashers statements changed to emphasize the pain aspect of the sound once she talked to the FBI, and that she first told investigators that Zehm was “fighting” with police.

Brashers said she was never told what to say by federal investigators - only that she should tell the truth.

After the encounter, Brashers appeared on a local TV news station after hearing police claim that Zehm had lunged at police.

“When I watched the news that night it was different from what I saw, so I had my mom call and I told them that wasn't what I'd seen,” Brashers said.


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