Arrow-right Camera

Medical expert says Zehm was beaten over the head

YAKIMA — A doctor who testified in the 1992 Los Angeles police beating trial of Rodney King said today that medical evidence clearly shows Otto Zehm was beaten over the head with a police baton.

Dr. Harry Smith narrated a series of autopsy photos and internal imagery scans to show jurors why he believes Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. struck Zehm in the head, which would constitute unjustified lethal force. Thompson disputes it.

The medical scans showed swelling under Zehm’s scalp and a mass on the right side of Zehm’s neck, which is in the same general area where a witness Wednesday testified that he saw Thompson strike Zehm on March 18, 2006.

“The cause of this is a relatively blunt form of impact,” Smith told Victor Boutros, a Department of Justice trial attorney. “The object that was used to strike Mr. Zehm was a baton.”

Defense attorney Steven Lamberson earlier questioned medical witnesses about whether a knee from another officer could have caused the bleeding under Zehm’s scalp, who stopped breathing during the struggle and died two days later.

Boutros asked Smith the same question. “If the person who places a knee on the head is very heavy” the victim would “likely receive a skull fracture,” Smith said. “But if the knee is used as an instrument of impact, then it could be done.”

Boutros also asked Smith to talk about any other cases in which he served as an expert witness that included bleeding below the scalp, but no laceration or cut from the blow.

Smith mentioned the Rodney King case, a controversial excessive-force case from 1992 captured on home video that sparked widespread riots across parts of Los Angeles when the officers were acquitted of criminal charges.

The only other witness this morning was Aaron Jaramillo, who was working as an emergency medical technician with the ambulance crew on the night of the confrontation.

He testified that he overheard Spokane Police Officer Tim Moses telling Jaramillo’s co-worker, Michael Stussi, that Thompson hit Zehm on the head, neck and upper torso.

But Lamberson challenged Jaramillo on grand jury testimony in which he said he couldn’t remember that information.

Jaramillo said he was in Florida when he was contacted by the FBI. His wife had recently given birth to their first child and he was averaging about one hour of sleep a night, he said.

He was then flown across country to Spokane and testified with little or no sleep. After a good night’s sleep, federal investigators had Jaramillo testify again to the grand jury and he said he then could remember the details clearly.

“I told the truth both days,” Jaramillo said. “I could not recall things clearly on the first day.”

Moses is in the William O. Douglas federal building and will be called this afternoon. He prevoiusly testified to the grand jury that Thompson told him at the scene that he had hit Zehm with a baton on the head.

Moses, through his attorney Chris Bugbee, then informed federal prosecutors of his intent to seek Fifth Amendment protections from self-incrimination. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed has secured an immunity letter that will prevent Moses from taking the Fifth.