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Zehm, Yohe catalysts for forum

Sun., June 17, 2007

A mentally disabled man buying a candy bar dies last year after a struggle with police. A meth addict with epilepsy confronted by sheriff’s deputies on May 1 while possibly having a seizure stops breathing after a violent struggle.

The stories of Otto Zehm and Trent Yohe, among others, have prompted the Washington State Human Rights Commission to organize a forum Thursday on how disabled people are treated by law enforcement officers in Spokane.

The event is co-sponsored by a Spokane group, the Coalition of Responsible Disabled (CORD). Invited speakers include advocates for citizens with disabilities, a civil rights attorney and Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

The state’s human rights commission organizes six to eight “listening sessions” each year throughout the state for citizens to discuss a variety of topics, from hate crimes to immigrant rights, said Marc Brenman, the commission’s executive director in Olympia.

Shawn Murinko, a lawyer and one of five commissioners appointed by the governor, is from Spokane, has a serious disability and has taken the lead for the Spokane meeting, Brenman said. Murinko was appointed to the commission in July 2006 by Gov. Chris Gregoire. He is the president of Washington Attorneys With Disabilities.

The interaction of law enforcement and people with disabilities has led to many problems, Brenman said.

“Sometimes the police mistake a mental disability or a seizure for not following orders fast enough. We hear from people around the country on this,” he said.

People attending the meeting may speak on any civil rights or human rights issue. If the crowd is large, time to speak may be limited, but everyone will be heard, Brenman added.

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