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Prosecutor candidates weigh in on Zehm

Tue., Aug. 29, 2006, midnight

One of the Democratic candidates for Spokane County prosecutor said he would have expanded the Otto Zehm investigation if he were prosecutor.

Local attorney Bob Caruso, 68, said Monday that he would charge the young woman who called 911 after she saw Zehm approach her car March 18 while parked with her friend at an ATM machine at Ruby and Indiana.

According to transcripts, the caller told a 911 operator that she believed that Zehm had taken “a ton of money” out of her friend’s account. Also, a dispatcher later told officers that Zehm “appears to be high” even though nothing in the transcripts indicates that was communicated by the caller.

Investigators later learned that Zehm had taken nothing and had no illegal drugs in his system.

“Somebody called 911 and lied to 911, and as a result of that, somebody died,” Caruso said. “Now that person needs to be charged.”

Caruso would also charge the dispatcher. “Nobody told her that. She … incited that officer to sneak up behind (Zehm) and attack him from behind. Those people need some kind of wake-up call.”

Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said he doesn’t know what statute Caruso would use to charge the caller or the dispatcher other than filing a false report. He used an analogy of somebody reporting a drunken driver.

“That guy looked intoxicated, but I don’t want to get charged for turning him in. That’s crazy,” Tucker said.

He added: “This is going to be an interesting election.”

In the Sept. 19 Democratic primary, Caruso is facing Kootenai County Deputy Prosecutor Jim Reierson, who has also been critical of Tucker’s handling of the Zehm and other high-profile cases. Tucker, a Republican, isn’t facing a challenger in the primary.

On Monday, Reierson, 56, said he would have waited even longer than Tucker to release the surveillance video, which contradicted many of the previous statements made by acting Police Chief Jim Nicks about the confrontation.

“I think that was prematurely released to the press,” Reierson said of the tape. “If in fact the officers are charged out of that case, I think there is going to be a real issue on whether they can get a fair trial after hundreds or thousands of people have been watching the tape of that.”

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