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There’s no free lunge for Spokane Police Department

Sun., Sept. 27, 2009

What’s in a word? When the word is “lunge,” it could be quite a bit.

That’s lunge the verb, as in the Spokane Police Department’s repeated insistence that Otto Zehm “lunged” at Officer Karl Thompson on March 18, 2006, in an altercation that led to Zehm being struck with a police baton, jolted with a Taser, handcuffed and hog-tied, losing consciousness, slipping into a coma, being declared brain dead, and eventually dying.

That word was used by acting Spokane police Chief Jim Nicks, who had been called to the scene the night of the altercation.

“The suspect lunged at the officer during the initial contact and basically a fight occurred at that time,” he told the assembled news media.

All the bad things that happened, it seemed, sprang from that lunge.

But Nicks wasn’t there when the altercation started, and neither were any other police officers. So someone had to tell him that Zehm lunged at Thompson so that Nicks could tell that to the news media. Nicks and other police officials continued to use the verb in press releases and statements – until the eventual public release of security video from inside the store showed no such lunge.

In fact, Zehm was doing sort of the opposite, backing up.

Documents filed last week in the civil and criminal cases indicate no one can remember who first said “lunged.” Nicks said someone told him that night, but he couldn’t remember who. Different police officers and detectives on the scene insisted they didn’t initially say Zehm lunged at Thompson. They may have heard it that night, but they couldn’t remember from whom. Or maybe they heard it later, when they saw or read news accounts.

The interesting thing, from an etymological standpoint, is that no one ever seemed to use any synonym for lunged. Zehm wasn’t described as lurching or plunging forward, leaping at, pushing toward. Always lunging.

Court documents indicate that federal prosecutors also find that interesting, and it seems unlikely their interest is in sending the department a new thesaurus.

Election reminder

If you live in Washington state but aren’t yet registered to vote, time’s getting short if you want to cast a ballot Nov. 3.

Oct. 5 is the deadline for registering the most convenient ways, either by filling out a form that’s available at many government offices and libraries, or by downloading a form from the Internet, filling it out and sending it in. (It’s available at www.secstate

Those familiar with state rules know there’s a way to register after Oct. 5, by going to the county elections office in person. But if you know that much and aren’t registered, one might logically wonder why.

Campaign calendar

Chances to catch the candidates, and the surrogates for some of the ballot issues, in the Nov. 3 election, are going to be popping up with increasing frequency. The newspaper and the Spin Control Web site will try to keep up with them as they come in, but here’s some we know about:

Tuesday: Spokane Area League of Women Voters forum for Spokane Public Schoolsboard seats, Municipal Court, state House District 9, I-1033 and Referendum 71, 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers, Spokane City Hall.

Thursday: Candidates for all three Spokane City Council seats debate at a Greater Spokane Inc., 7:30 a.m., 801 W. Riverside Ave.

Thursday: Candidates for Northeast Spokane Council Seat 1, Municipal Court race between Tracy Staab and Bryan Whitaker, supporters and opponents of city Proposition 4, 6:30 p.m., Hillyard’s Masonic Temple, 3023 E. Diamond.

Oct. 5: Spokane Area League of Women Voters forum for Spokane City Council candidates, Spokane Fire Department bond, other city ballot issues, 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

Spin Control is a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden which also appears online with daily posts, comments and videos at blogs/spincontrol.


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