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When official voices obfuscate, a little translation clarifies

Tue., Oct. 27, 2009

Once again, doubt is being raised about the “official” facts regarding Otto Zehm, the mentally ill janitor who died following a violent 2006 encounter with cops in a Spokane convenience store.

The issue this time is over the city’s position that Zehm was said to be acting like he was on drugs.

According to the city, this claim originated with the woman whose erroneous call to 911 set off a misguided chain of events that ended with Zehm being treated like one of Michael Vick’s unwanted mutts.

Yet lawyers for Zehm’s mother have complained recently that such a contention doesn’t show up on the 911 recording that they have.

Can you say SpoKeystone Cops?

Cantankerous banter is hardly uncommon in our perverse and protracted legal system.

And that’s where I come in.

Luckily for you, I’ve racked up decades of experience in dealing with weasels in all levels of authority.

As a result, I’ve become almost psychic at interpreting the hidden meanings behind official doublespeak and deceit.

For example, let me examine a few of the claims made by SPD officials and city shysters regarding the Zehm atrocity. Then I will translate what is actually being conveyed.

Claim: Otto “lunged” at Officer Thompson inside the store.

Translation: Otto lunged, ducked, bobbed and weaved. How else do you avoid getting baton-bashed and electrified by Officer Karl Thompson Jr?

Claim : Jim Nicks, Spokane’s assistant police chief, says he can’t remember who told him that Otto “lunged” at Officer Thompson.

Translation: “Circle the wagons, boys. It’s ass-covering time!”

Claim : Otto brandished his 2-liter plastic bottle of Diet Pepsi as a dangerous weapon.

Translation: Otto brandished his 2-liter plastic bottle of Diet Pepsi because he was thirsty.

Claim: Otto actually died from “excited delirium” syndrome.

Translation: Otto died from “Badge Run Amok” syndrome.

Claim : Spokane officials and city lawyers say that Otto was responsible for all that happened to him.

Translation: What? You want to tell the truth and bankrupt the city?

Claim: Otto looked like he was “on something.”

Translation: Otto was on something. Otto was on his back, Otto was on his stomach, Otto was on the floor, Otto was on a stretcher. Otto was on a slab at the morgue …

Show your support

Good news. I have obtained a new shipment of Otto buttons, which are still free for the asking.

The catch, however, is that I can’t engage in another mass mailing. Too costly.

But getting one is still easy. All you have to do is go see my good friends at Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave., in downtown Spokane. The buttons will be available at the front counter beginning at 11 a.m. today.

Or if you bump into me, just ask. I always keep some buttons in a pocket.

Remember Otto.

Columnist Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or

Tags: Otto Zehm

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