Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. told jurors today that the death of Otto Zehm will be something he carries with him the rest of his life.
“It was a profound tragedy for his family, his friends, for me,” said Thompson, testifying in his own defense in Yakima where he’s on trial for using excessive force and lying to investigators in the fatal March 18, 2006, confrontation with Zehm. “It has extended throughout my department and the community.”
The comments mark the first time Thompson has publicly spoken about the fatal confrontation.
Under questioning from his defense attorney, Carl Oreskovich, Thompson described hearing the dispatch call about a man scaring some girls and possibly taking some of their money before fleeing. He said he spotted Zehm headed to the Zip Trip and told jurors that Zehm saw him pull up in his patrol car.
Thompson said it’s common for crime suspects to try and blend in, “They don’t all run.” He said his greatest concern was for the people in the store and whether Zehm was armed.
When he rounded the aisle that Zehm was in and began closing in on him, Thompson said time slowed down.
He said he was looking for compliance from Zehm. “I gave him commands. They were quick, but he gave me quick responses,” Thompson said. “It was ‘why’ and ‘no.’ ” Thompson said when he told Zehm to drop the pop bottle he was holding, Zehm asked him why and then refused.
Asked by Oreskovich why he was concerned about a plastic pop bottle, Thompson said: “That’s like holding a brick in your hand.”
Although security video shows no hesitation as he approaches Zehm in the store, Thompson said he recalls pausing briefly before engaging.
He said his intent was to detain Zehm but that Zehm continued to flail and struggle to get away. Zehm continued to move after being shocked with a Taser and Thompson said he worried that he was going to get to his feet, which would put him in a position to potentially harm him or others.
Thompson said it’s possible that he might have inadvertently hit Zehm in the head during the violent struggle but that he never targeted a potentially lethal area.
Cross examination is expected later this afternoon.