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City approves $200,000 for defense in Zehm case

The Spokane City Council on Tuesday agreed to pay up to $200,000 to defend the city in a lawsuit resulting from the death of Otto Zehm, who died in police custody in 2006.

Council members said they agreed to the resolution because they must defend city employees.

“What we’re doing is what we’re required to do,” said Councilman Bob Apple.

The council voted 6-0 approving the new agreement with attorney Carl Oreskovich increasing the amount he can be paid from $45,000 to $200,000.

At an earlier meeting, City Attorney Howard Delaney told council members that the number represents what it would cost if the matter goes to trial, but the final bill might be less. He added that the increase was needed because since the first agreement, the Center for Justice has filed the lawsuit in the case.

Hank Valder, a frequent council attendee, testified that with all the money the city is willing to spend mounting a defense in the lawsuit, it makes more sense to settle the case.

“His family has suffered enough,” he said. “The community has suffered enough.”

Besides working for the city on the lawsuit, Oreskovich represents Karl F. Thompson Jr., an officer who responded to the scene. Federal authorities are investigating the police response for possible civil rights violations.

Delaney said the agreement approved by council is for Oreskovich’s work relating to the lawsuit, not for Thompson’s possible criminal defense.