Spokane leaders Monday continued to defend police actions during the 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm, despite a federal indictment of one of the officers involved in the incident.
They qualifed their support by noting that they aren’t privy to the evidence shared with a federal grand jury.
“Based on the information we have, we’ve been supportive of not only police officers but the firefighters and the other city employees involved in that incident,” City Administrator Ted Danek said Monday afternoon.
At a news conference Monday, U.S. Attorney James McDevitt announced that a grand jury indicted Karl Thompson, the officer who first responded to a complaint about Zehm.
“I don’t believe that Karl acted to willingly deprive Mr. Zehm of his constitutional rights,” City Attorney Howard Delaney said. He added, “I have not necessarily seen everything that the grand jury has.”
While calling the incident “a tragedy,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has defended police actions.
“In my personal opinion … I just don’t think that the behavior of the officer rose to criminal behavior,” Verner said in February.
On Monday, she noted that she wasn’t briefed by federal authorities on their evidence.
“Like the rest of the public, I’ll be watching the evidence unfold in the court system,” Verner said.
City Councilman Richard Rush attended McDevitt’s news conference. He declined to comment on the indictment, but he said he went to get a firsthand account of the charges “sans any filters” from city officials.
The city faces a lawsuit from the Center for Justice on behalf of Zehm’s family. Last week, the city sent its response to the suit to media; it says Zehm was at fault for the confrontation with police.
Councilman Bob Apple criticized the city’s defense posture, which he described as an “attitude of basically, ‘We’re not responsible and this life isn’t worth anything.’ ”