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Clark: Venue change is slap to Spokane jurors

The verdict is in. Anyone desiring to watch the upcoming federal trial of Karl Thompson Jr. – the Spokane cop whose deadly encounter with Otto Zehm earned him an excessive force charge – must fill up the tank and travel 200 miles to Yakima.

Apparently we wags of the local media are to blame for potentially tainting the jury pool with our blather.


I can’t recall the last time I was in Yakima, but I think it had something to do with mad cow disease.

There’s no use whining. U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle has made up his mind, sort of.

The judge, according to our news account, conceded he wasn’t convinced that Zehm-related coverage by local media created “actual” or “perceived” bias against Thompson.

Not about to be swayed by the soundness of his logic, however, the judge moved the trial anyway.

Our hubbub over Zehm inconveniently dying and all the lies officials told in the aftermath MIGHT bias a Spokane jury, and that’s close enough for His Honor.

This is such wrongheaded reasoning. What Van Sickle should be doing is lauding the press for a job well done.

Without our wailing, without our gnashing of teeth, the unprovoked death of an innocent, mentally ill janitor would have remained buried in the deep, dank depths of county prosecutor Steve Tucker’s golf bag.

Have we lost our collective memories?

I realize that bemoaning the fate of poor Otto has become fashionable.

Why, it’s now a regular cause du jour.

David Condon, in fact, is using it to pump air into his leaky mayoral campaign even though three months ago he didn’t know Otto Zehm from AutoZone.

Not that Mayor Mary Verner is clean on this.

Hardly. The mayor swallowed the “Otto had it coming” lie told by the SPD and backed by vultures in the city’s legal department.

Now it’s come back to haunt her, and rightly so.

Verner’s current transparent (misguided? deceitful?) attempt to get on the right side of this issue may be too late.

Did you catch the mayor on one of the TV news channels the other night?

She was on her way to some function when a reporter and camera crew ambushed her with questions about some of her Zehm claims that didn’t add up. The mayor wouldn’t play along, but her face told all you need to know.

I haven’t seen such a look of defensive annoyance since Nixon was nervously jitterbugging around questions regarding a certain hotel break-in.

But getting back to Van Sickle, I hear there’s a move afoot to bring a Yakima jury to Spokane. I hope it works.

Because this current change of venue is such a cynical slap at the fair-minded nature of our homegrown jurors.

Maybe I’m just a pie-eyed optimist, but I truly believe citizens around here are essentially good and honest and fully capable of assimilating the facts and testimony before nailing Thompson to the wall.

“There has been a great deal of publicity in the community,” remarked Van Sickle in our news story.

“Yakima is not that far away.”

Yeah? Maybe that was true back in the days of cheap fossil fuel and swollen newsroom budgets.

But this is 2011, judge. I know how the bean counters think.

Yakima might as well be a chunk of space rock orbiting the planet Neptune.

Besides, is it really neighborly to foist our civic stink onto Yakima?

I’m certain that community, what with it being Yakima and all, has more than enough of its own scandals to deal with.

What I think doesn’t count, of course. The only robe I wear is terrycloth after a shower.

All I know is that back in March 2006, a simple guy walked into a quickie mart on Division to buy himself a candy bar and a plastic bottle of diet pop.

He had no idea that two young women had wrongly reported him as a thief.

Thompson was the first cop to respond. The beat-down of an innocent man commenced moments later.

Otto never got the chance to enjoy his snack. He died two days later.

And the wait for justice goes on.

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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