May 30, 2010 in City

AMR report could play key role in officer’s trial

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Background and the latest updates

On the night of the fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm, Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. told a fellow officer that he’d hit Zehm in the head with his police baton – an act that he and the city have acknowledged would be an unjustified use of lethal force.

An ambulance emergency medical technician wrote a pre-hospital patient-care report saying Thompson told Officer Tim Moses that Thompson had hit Zehm in the head and neck. But that report apparently was never turned over to prosecutors by the Spokane Police Department’s lead investigator on the case.

“I don’t remember seeing the AMR report,” Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said Friday, referring to the report penned by an EMT with the city’s private ambulance service, American Medical Response. “It concerns me … that I wasn’t given the straight story. I thought we worked together. I’d like to think I’m getting everything if I’m going to make a decision. But I still don’t know what I didn’t get or what the inconsistencies were.”

The AMR report was made available to Spokane police Detective Terry Ferguson, according to court records, based on a search warrant she filed March 29, 2006, seeking medical records from Deaconess Medical Center. Moses later testified to a grand jury that Thompson told him he had hit Zehm in the head with his baton, according to court records.

The AMR report contradicts what police officials said from the night of the incident on March 18, 2006 – that Thompson followed police procedure in the confrontation with Zehm in a North Side Zip Trip.

Zehm, who had not committed a crime, was hit with a police baton, shocked with a Taser and hogtied with a mask placed over his face. He stopped breathing and died two days later.

In the city’s response to a civil-rights claim by Zehm’s mother last year, city attorneys wrote that any force used by Thompson was “reasonable and necessary.”

Thompson also denied hitting Zehm in the head with his police baton in his 2006 interview with Ferguson.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin has sought a judge’s approval to use the AMR report in the June 7 criminal trial in which Thompson is charged with excessive force and lying to investigators about the confrontation with the 36-year-old Zehm.

But Thompson’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich, has filed his own motion asking U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to exclude the AMR report, saying Moses has since “corrected” his grand jury testimony that Thompson told him he hit Zehm in the head with a baton. Asked Friday what he meant by “corrected,” Oreskovich said he couldn’t comment because it will be part of his arguments in a court hearing Thursday.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury continues to hear testimony about obstruction of justice claims, and a yet unnamed Spokane police officer has received a letter indicating that federal officials will seek to charge him or her with a crime, according attorney Rob Cossey, who is representing the officer.

As for the upcoming trial, Ferguson apparently is going to testify that Thompson did use excessive force and she acknowledges “many glaring missteps and omissions” during her investigation, Durkin wrote in court records.

“This neglect includes, but is not limited to, the failure to interview AMR ambulance paramedics who were informed on scene by SPD personnel that Otto Zehm had ‘attacked’ … (Thompson) and in response Officer Thompson struck Zehm in the ‘head, neck and upper torso,’ ” Durkin wrote in court records.

Durkin, who declined to comment about any aspect of the case, also wrote that federal investigators have found three witnesses who will testify they saw Thompson hit Zehm in the head with his baton, which is not a standard-issue metal baton. Durkin wrote in another court filing that Thompson instead uses a straight baton made of “ironwood” that is longer. He apparently obtained it during his time on the Los Angeles police force.

Tucker said federal investigators told him they found several “inconsistencies” with the police department’s investigation.

“I haven’t heard where inconsistencies were. That was not passed on,” he said.

Asked if he plans to take any action against Ferguson or others based on allegations in the federal case, Tucker said he will see what comes up during Thompson’s trial.

“It would depend on what the evidence is and wrong information in it,” he said.


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