Local news

Judge won’t move up Karl Thompson trial

A federal judge has denied a request to move up the March 2011 trial date of Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. for his role in the 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm.

Jeffry Finer, who represents Zehm’s estate, asked U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to consider an earlier trial date because of the ailing health of Zehm’s mother, Ann Zehm.

But Van Sickle denied the motion, and kept the trial at March 7, according to court records.

Thompson’s trial was originally set to begin on June 7. But with the jury waiting in another room, federal prosecutors informed Van Sickle that they intended to appeal his decision barring the presentation of evidence that Zehm had not committed a crime to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Victor Boutros, a trial lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice, asked Van Sickle to reset the trial in August to give federal appellate judges more incentive to quickly consider the appeal. But Van Sickle instead set the trial for March 7, which is almost five years after Zehm was confronted by Thompson following a report by two women who erroneously claimed Zehm had taken their money from a cash machine on March 18, 2006. Thompson struck Zehm with a baton, shocked him with a Taser and several other officers hogtied Zehm for about 17 minutes until he stopped breathing. Zehm, a 36-year-old janitor with paranoid schizophrenia, never regained consciousness and died two days later.

In June 2009, a federal grand jury indicted Thompson on felony charges of using excessive force and lying to investigators. As the criminal case proceeds, a civil case against Thompson has been put on hold.


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