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Doug Clark: As city bungles Zehm incident, Apple shows some polish

Thu., June 25, 2009

Before telling you how you can still get an Otto button, I want to compliment a city official.

I know. An unrigged Iranian election is easier to find than kind words about city officials in a Clark column.

Still, Bob Apple deserves praise.

Apple caught my attention when he spoke out about the city’s crass attempt to smear Otto Zehm, who died in 2006 not long after being bashed by Spokane cops.

The councilman took a dim view of the blame-the- dead-victim tactic the city’s legal weasels are using to derail a lawsuit filed by Otto’s mother, Ann.

Apple characterized this disgraceful scheme as an “attitude of basically, ‘We’re not responsible and this life isn’t worth anything.’ ”

Nice, Bob.

Apple has been a column comedy donor over the years.

He is, after all, the same guy who stopped stocking toilet paper in his Hillyard saloon to thwart paper-pilfering patrons.

But Apple’s sensitivity is spot on regarding the assault on a mentally ill janitor in a Spokane convenience store.

Tarred wrongfully as a thief in a 911 call, Otto was repeatedly clubbed and shocked with a stun gun by Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. and other cops who arrived later.

Three long and frustrating years passed with no charges and no justice.

Then, on Monday, Thompson was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of violating Otto’s civil rights and later lying to investigators about the confrontation.

You’d think these federal indictments would serve as a City Hall wake-up call.

And you’d be wrong.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and other leaders could pass for honorary members of the Police Guild.

Meanwhile, the region still simmers with anger and indignation over what happened to Otto Zehm.

“They have done a great job of trying Otto,” former Spokane County Prosecutor Don Brockett wrote in an e-mail to me about the city’s victim trashing.

“Now it is our turn, through our peers, to try the actions of the officer. At least some agency had the guts to bring this to court. Finally!”

Or how about this e-mail from a city employee. I won’t identify the writer for obvious and potentially job-endangering reasons.

“I am embarrassed and ashamed by the way the officers dealt with Otto and the terrible tragedy that resulted from it,” wrote the worker.

“I hope the truth finally comes to light for everyone to see and that this sort of horrific injustice never is allowed to happen again.”

One way we can do that is to keep Otto’s name alive.

That’s where the Otto buttons come in.

If you recall, I gave away 1,000-plus Otto buttons in March.

Last week, I ordered another 300.

Here’s the deal. I won’t go through the mass-mailing nightmare again.

But at noon Friday, I’ll be giving buttons away at Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave.

Come on down. Say hello.

And remember Otto.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.


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