Doug Clark: When will Timid Tucker get off the pot?

SUNDAY, SEPT. 24, 2006

And now for the latest speed bump in the case of Otto Zehm, the mentally ill janitor who died at the hands of the police last March in a north Spokane convenience store:

The medical examiner has taken a second gander at her previous findings at the request of Steve Tucker, Spokane County’s links*-lovin’ prosecutor.

(*Golf, not kielbasa.)

Sally Aiken, according to Tucker in a Friday news story, doesn’t believe the plastic non-rebreather mask that was placed over Zehm’s mouth and nose by a cop “contributed to his death.”

If the prosecutor keeps dillydallying and asking for further reviews, it’s only a matter of time before somebody will conclude that Zehm didn’t actually expire and is living across from River Park Square in one of those fancy new condos.

Nothing that could come out of this case would surprise me.

Oh, well. It’s only been six months since the day two young women wrongly accused Zehm of stealing their money out of an ATM machine. This triggered a chain of events that ultimately led to Zehm’s death.

It’s not as if Tucker’s in any rush in deciding whether to file charges against anyone. The only thing the prosecutor seems sure of is that, well, he just needs a little more time.

Tucker now says he’s waiting for an analysis of the store surveillance tapes.

“I think it will be within days of getting the video and having a chance to review it,” he told a reporter. “I’m just waiting to see if it helps make up my mind.”

What a lightweight.

On Friday, Bob Caruso, the Democratic challenger for Tucker’s job, accused his opponent of waiting long enough.

I’m not fooled. This is just an underdog trying to grab a headline. But that doesn’t make Caruso wrong.

You have to wonder: Would the Zehm investigation have dragged on this long if Big Steve didn’t have re-election on his mind?

Or is this more of what I think it is – a pathetic example of prosecutorial wimpery?

Oh, how I long for the days when Donald Brockett occupied the prosecutor’s post.

I didn’t agree with everything he did, either. But Brockett was a hard-ass who never shied away from making a tough decision. He was an honorable public servant who put doing the job above political concerns.

Tucker could prove me wrong. But I’m not holding my breath for this former Washington State Patrol trooper to deliver any bombshell charges against brother cops.

I know. I am so cynical. It’s such a character flaw.

I don’t even trust the tests that made the medical examiner a disbeliever regarding the oxygen non-rebreather mask’s role in Zehm’s death.

True, all I know about forensics comes from watching episodes of “Bones” on TV.

But to paraphrase our story, Aiken asked some university eggheads to run tests on the effects of the mask. Supposedly some human guinea pigs ran on a treadmill with a mask affixed to their faces.

It “did not restrict airflow under stress,” stated Tucker in our story.

Wow. I’m surprised the experiment didn’t include someone jumping out of a closet and yelling “BOO!” to simulate fright.

Allow me to give my own scientific opinion: Baloney.

Zehm was clubbed by a police baton six times. He was shocked with Tasers – not once, not twice, but three times.

To keep him from spitting, the aforementioned mask – with a nickel-size air hole – was placed over his mouth and nose AFTER he was hogtied and helpless.

The poor soul was agitated, scared, confused and gasping for life.

There’s your Otto Zehm scenario.

He died two days later, never regaining consciousness. Aiken in May called the death a homicide. She ruled that Zehm died from a lack of oxygen to the brain, which came from heart failure while being restrained on his stomach.

How much longer must we wait for Timid Tucker to get off the pot and do the right thing?

As those prophets Sonny & Cher once sang:

“The beat goes on, the beat goes on …”

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