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Zehm update: Police training, response explained

YAKIMA – Jurors got a taste today of the unpredictability that officers face through the testimony of the defensive tactics trainer who instructed Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. on how to use a baton.

Detective Larry Bowman told a captivating story of how he once responded to a call to check on a woman. She answered the door and a man was seated at the table. Within seconds, the man pulled a gun, walked over and pushed the gun into Bowman’s chest as the officer froze.

“He totally overwhelmed me. My gun was still in the holster half way out,” Bowman told the jury. “He totally overwhelmed my thought process. It wasn’t my time.”

Bowman’s testimony will continue later today in the criminal trial of Thompson, who faces the felony charges of using unreasonable force and lying to investigators following the encounter on March 18, 2006, with Otto Zehm.

Although attorneys argued over who and how many witnesses are left to testify, defense attorney Carl Oreskovich told U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle that he expects to finish his case sometime Thursday morning.

Although Oreskovich said Thompson will testify in his own defense, he has not been listed in about 10 potential remaining witnesses.

But some of the strongest testimony for the defense came this morning from Bowman, who said officers are trained to advance on suspects to make sure the officer keeps the initiative.

“Depending on the call that you have, I want to control the individual’s thought process,” he said. “I want to overwhelm their thinking so they don’t have an opportunity to come up with their own plan. You force that person back. The idea is to move on them and redirect their energy onto the ground.”

The video shows Zehm retreating from Thompson who never stopped advancing and started striking Zehm with a baton in just over two seconds from entering the Zip Trip at 1712 N. Division St.

Bowman previously reviewed the video and told now retired Detective Terry Ferguson that it was his opinion that Thompson acted in accordance with his training. Court records indicate that Bowman changed that assessment when he spoke to federal investigators, but he was not called as a prosecution witness.

Earlier today, attorneys completed the testimony of forensic video expert Michael Schott. He testified that he did not see a baton strike on Zehm until after Thompson shot Zehm with the Taser.

Prosecution experts and a half dozen witnesses said Thompson delivered multiple baton strikes to the head and torso of Zehm, who fell to the ground as he held a 2-liter soda bottle in front of his face. Only then did Thompson fire the Taser as one witness described Zehm as “just laying there.”

Schott also testified that two dirt smudges on Thompson’s uniform came from shoes. Under cross examination, he confirmed that the video does not reflect that Zehm ever punched or kicked Thompson.

Victor Boutros, a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, asked Schott why he did not consider witness statements, or even Thompson’s statement, when trying to determine the first baton strike.

“When you are doing a forensic video examination … it’s intentional that I do not try to use witness statements to determine what I can get from the video,” Schott said. “If you have a video where it was not clear and you try to clarify witness statements that conflict, then you have muddied both waters. It doesn’t help.”

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