November 3, 2011 in City

Clark: This time, the jury got it exactly right

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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It takes a lot to get to a guy like me.

Many journalists hide behind a shield of cynicism, and I’ve had 37 years of practice.

But I’ll admit it. I choked up Wednesday afternoon when my Mom called to relay the bombshell she’d just heard on TV.

The jurors I had watched so intently the other day during my visit to a Yakima federal courtroom had delivered a courageous verdict.

They convicted Karl Thompson, the Spokane thug cop who beat Otto Zehm like a dog five years ago in a North Division convenience store.

They found Thompson guilty for all those cruel, unwarranted baton strikes and Taser shocks that robbed the mentally ill man of his dignity and ultimately his life.

And guilty for all the lies Thompson told afterward to cover his sorry ass.

I don’t want to alarm any of my readers. But this verdict goes a long way in restoring my faith in the justice system.

Didn’t think it would happen. Didn’t think it could happen.

I got pretty jaded during the last go-round, when an inebriated, off-duty Spokane cop actually shot an unarmed citizen in the head and got away with it. As the “not guilty” was delivered in that case, police officers sitting in the courtroom pumped their fists as if they had been watching the Cougs win an upset.

Not this time, cowboys.

This verdict should send an off-the-charts shock wave through the department and the Spokane Police Guild, which seems to go out of its way to preserve and protect the very worst elements of its membership.

Message to SPD: Bad law enforcement can come with dire consequences.

I love this city. I was born here, and it sickens me to see what little faith average citizens have in their police.

What happened to Otto and the aftermath of deceit plays a large part in that equation.

This also brought out the very worst in some of our so-called leaders.

It began with acting police Chief Jim Nicks spouting a false representation by the department about what had happened.

Current Mayor Mary Verner and police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick tried to assure us the police did nothing wrong.

And let’s not leave out Steve Tucker, our county prosecutor. He considered the case for months and then did what he is so accomplished at – absolutely nothing.

Don’t even get me started about what low regard I have for Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi.

There’s more than enough shame to spread around.

Thank God the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepped in with an indictment against Thompson for excessive force and lying to investigators.

The feds wouldn’t let go despite U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle’s troubling decision to disallow any mention during the trial of Otto being innocent.

In the end that didn’t matter.

Those jurors saw what was done on March 18, 2006.

As I wrote on Sunday, this case was all about a cop who came into the Zip Trip on a half trot and with a seeming agenda of violence.

By the time he caught up with Otto, who had been wrongly reported as a thief, Thompson’s baton was flying. Otto was clubbed and pushed backward until he toppled over onto his back.

Thompson fired his Taser. Otto, clutching his bottle of soda, didn’t have a prayer.

I’ve given away thousands of Otto pins over the past five years. So whatever good I’m feeling about this verdict is tempered by what motivated me to have those small black buttons made.

A man died for no reason in my hometown, and people who should have cared let it slide.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.

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