Thompson trial: Officer disputes own grand jury testimony
YAKIMA – After obtaining an immunity letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, Spokane police Officer Tim Moses testified he could not remember or disputed any incriminating things he previously said under oath against his friend, Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.
Moses will continue his testimony today in the trial of Thompson, who faces felony charges of using unreasonable force and lying to investigators about the fatal 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm.
Moses had indicated to prosecutors he intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The immunity letter secured his testimony.
Before a federal grand jury in 2009, Moses testified Thompson told him on March 18, 2006, that he struck Zehm in the head, and that Moses then passed that information on to ambulance crews.
Those same medics testified Wednesday and Thursday that Moses was the source of their information indicating Zehm suffered baton strikes in the head, neck and upper torso.
But on Thursday, Moses claimed that federal prosecutors intimidated him into giving those incriminating answers against Thompson in 2009.
“I was completely rattled by the way they treated me in there,” Moses said of his interview and grand jury testimony in 2009. “I was told that if I didn’t agree with what was going on that I would be charged with obstruction of justice.”
The exchange between Moses and Victor Boutros, a Justice Department trial attorney, got so heated that the stenographer and U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle told both men to slow down.
“You claim now that you were intimidated into saying something that wasn’t true?” Boutros asked.
Moses answered: “Absolutely.”
“I’ve been a cop all my life,” he continued. “I’m thinking these guys are telling me the truth. I learn later … it was manipulation.”
Moses said federal investigators kept him in the office for a “six-hour ordeal” and that he didn’t feel free to leave because he was under subpoena.
“During your six-hour ordeal you took a two-hour lunch break. You took it on your own, correct?” Boutros asked. Moses said yes.
Boutros pointed out that Moses didn’t try to change his story until 10 months after his grand jury testimony and just days after meeting with defense attorney Carl Oreskovich.
“You testified in great detail. You actually had no problem telling the grand jury answers of information you didn’t recall?” Boutros asked.
“I answered all your leading questions with one-word answers,” he said.
Boutros asked Moses Thursday to describe the exact words Thompson used to describe his encounter with Zehm.
“Something like, ‘He came at me and took a defensive position.’ I don’t remember the exact verbiage. I don’t remember him saying the word ‘lunge’ to me. I’m the one who coined that word,” he said. “I had a brief conversation with Acting Chief (Jim) Nicks. I used the word lunged … he went right across the street and said that in a media interview.”
But in the grand jury testimony, Moses was asked if he could remember the “exact words” Thompson used describe Zehm’s actions. “Lunged is the one I remember,” according to the transcript Boutros read.
Thompson was the first officer to respond to a false report that Zehm had stolen money from an ATM. Thompson shocked Zehm with a Taser and hit him with his baton. Other officers joined in as Zhem was hogtied and placed on his stomach with a mask over his face. He stopped breathing and died two days later.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed said the government’s case could be completed as early today and said he will call Officers Erin Raleigh and Sandy McIntyre, who faces a possible federal obstruction of justice charge.
Unlike Moses, “there is no cooperation agreement of any kind between McIntyre and the government,” Boutros said.
In opening statements, Boutros said McIntyre reviewed the videotape from the Zip Trip, at 1712 N. Division St., and had a brief conversation with Thompson. After that conversation, Boutros said, Thompson never again claimed that Zehm lunged at him even though police brass used that term for months afterward.
Earlier Thursday, prosecutors called Zeth Mayfield, who testified that he had seen Zehm in various Zip Trips around Spokane more than 50 times before his fatal encounter with Spokane police.
Jurors took notes as Mayfield explained that Zehm always bought Pepsi products in 2-liter bottles, which Thompson later claimed was the justification for using his baton.
Defense attorney Steven Lamberson tried unsuccessfully to bar the testimony of Kristina Lockett, who said she saw Thompson strike Zehm in the head with the baton.
Ahmed, the prosecutor, said that Spokane police learned in 2006 that she was a witness after she gave a television interview because she was upset that the official police version said Zehm lunged at Thompson.
“The officers … told her that her version was incorrect and that they tried to indicate to her that Mr. Zehm had in fact lunged at the officer and that she didn’t know what she was talking about,” Ahmed said outside the presence of the jury. “She asked them to leave and asked them for their badge numbers.”
Lamberson requested that the testimony be excluded because it did not directly relate to the charges against Thompson. Ahmed agreed and it was not shared with the jury.
Also Thursday, a doctor who testified in the 1992 Los Angeles police beating trial of Rodney King said that medical evidence clearly shows 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 Thompson hit 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.
“The cause of this is a relatively blunt form of impact,” Smith said. “The object that was used to strike Mr. Zehm was a baton.”
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 his struggle with police 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 King case, a controversial excessive-force case from 1992 that sparked widespread riots across parts of Los Angeles when the officers were acquitted of criminal charges.
The only other witness Thursday 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 Moses telling another medic, 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.”