YAKIMA – Jurors who will decide the excessive force trial of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thomspon Jr. want more information about Otto Zehm. Federal prosecutors want that, too.
U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle told attorneys Thursday that jurors sent him a note seeking more information about Zehm, the 36-year-old janitor who died after his brutal confrontation with Thompson and six other officers at a north Spokane convenience store.
Van Sickle said he would not grant the jury’s request. He has barred any mention in front of jurors that Zehm had committed no crime when officers confronted him, or that toxicology reports showed no illegal drugs in his system.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed pleaded with Van Sickle to give the jury what it wants.
“Several witnesses have indicated that Mr. Zehm was high on drugs,” Ahmed said. “The United States has to have some way of rebutting that besides just remaining silent.”
Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich told Van Sickle his earlier rulings should remain in place. “We are at a point in the case where we are putting on our last day,” Oreskovich said. “I understand the jurors have questions. But to put evidence in based on a juror question is inappropriate.”
Ahmed persisted: “We know for a fact he was innocent. Why would an innocent person grab a weapon? That’s the only way I can show it, your honor.”
Oreskovich countered, “We don’t know that he’s innocent. What we do know was that the girls reported … (Zehm) taking their money and a later investigation learned he wasn’t successful.”
Van Sickle concluded: “Fundamentally, an officer is to be judged by the information known at the time of the events,” Van Sickle said. “I’m mindful of the case law to the contrary and considered it. At this hour, I don’t think it’s appropriate. The ruling stays the same.”
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