The Spokane City Council on Monday voted unanimously to pay as much as $45,000 to a local attorney to defend the city against a possible lawsuit stemming from the death of Otto Zehm, who died in police custody in 2006.
The action allows the city to hire Carl Oreskovich for the case.
The death of the 36-year-old mentally disabled janitor triggered demands from the public for a full-time police ombudsman, launched a federal criminal investigation, and prompted a $2.9 million damage claim against the city.
But while the claim, filed by the Center for Justice on behalf of the Zehm estate, has been received by the city, no lawsuit has been filed.
Monday’s vote was “a preparedness issue,” said City Councilman Mike Allen. “It’s just being prudent.”
Troopers on leave during diploma probe
A Spokane-based Washington State patrolman is among nine troopers placed on paid administrative leave last week pending the outcome of internal inquiry into whether they used fake diplomas to get pay raises.
Trooper Daniel Mann, of the Spokane office, is among those under investigation. The others are a trooper in Seattle; two sergeants and two troopers in Vancouver, Wash.; a pair of troopers in Wenatchee; and a sergeant in Kelso, Wash., WSP Capt. Jeff DeVere said.
If wrongdoing is uncovered, criminal fraud charges will be levied by the Thurston County prosecutor’s office, he said.
The department takes fraud seriously, DeVere said. “We hold our employees to a very high level of accountability.”
Officials are working to complete the investigation as soon as possible, he said.
Federal convictions of operators of a Spokane diploma mill led the WSP to take a closer look at the authenticity of degrees qualifying many of its 1,200 commissioned personnel for higher salaries, DeVere said. But none of the nine troopers on leave appears on a list of the mill’s customers that was obtained by The Spokesman-Review.