September 6, 2011 in City, News

Condon calls Zehm case “indictment” on city government

By The Spokesman-Review
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Background and the latest updates

Full Text of Statement
The city of Spokane has mishandled the Otto Zehm case from the very beginning. As mayor, Mary Verner has wasted taxpayer money and slowed the course of justice by her defense of the city bureaucracy and the mismanagement of this case. A quarter of a million dollars and thousands of hours have been wasted while the bureaucracy churned away, trying to obscure the process. The indictment of a Spokane police officer by a federal grand jury was an indictment of Spokane’s city government itself. Who is to blame? Prosecutors, police officers, and city attorneys all contributed to this terrible situation. Ultimately, Mayor Verner is to blame for failing to put on the brakes. We elect a strong mayor because someone must ultimately take responsibility for the actions of city employees. A federal trial will begin soon to decide if a Spokane police officer is guilty of using unreasonable force on Otto Zehm. A jury will decide. But we already know that Mary Verner and the bureaucrats at city hall are guilty of wasting time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a vain effort to keep the facts from coming out. The mayor needs to show leadership and stop hiding her head in the sand. She cannot look at everything through a lawyer’s narrow legal perspective. According to the news reports, I believe Treppiedi should be dismissed immediately. When I’m mayor, I will insist we have a strong and independent police ombudsman even if it means re-opening contract negotiations with the guild. David Condon

Spokane mayoral challenger David Condon today called the city’s handling of the Otto Zehm case “an indictment” on city government, and called for greater police oversight as well as at least one dismissal from the city attorney’s office.

But he leveled the harshest criticism at his opponent in the November general election, Mayor Mary Verner.

“As mayor, Mayor Verner has wasted taxpayer money and slowed the course of justice by her defense of the city bureaucracy and the mismanagement of this case,” Condon said in a statement released today by his campaign.

Zehm, a 36-year-old Spokane man, died following a violent confrontation with police in March 2006. Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. faces federal charges of using excessive force and lying to investigators related to the confrontation. The city also faces a civil lawsuit from Zehm’s family.

In June 2009, officials in the U.S. Attorney’s Office sought to meet with Verner, City Council President Joe Shogan and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick related to prosecutors’ concerns that the city attorney’s office was more concerned about protecting the city from a lawsuit than in the Department of Justice’s “search for the truth,” as was stated in the email requesting the meeting from Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin to City Attorney Howard Delaney.

Verner has declined to say if she was aware of the request to meet, though the city’s spokeswoman has said officials were appropriately briefed by city attorneys.

Despite the federal indictment against Thompson, the city has insisted its officers did nothing wrong. Zehm had been mistakenly identified as a suspect in a possible theft and was confronted in a convenience store. Police initially claimed he had “lunged” at the first officer, despite the fact that store security cameras showed Zehm retreating from the baton-wielding officer.

Condon said Verner should explain to the public if she was informed of the request from federal authorities to meet, and if she was, why she declined to do so.

“The biggest issue is transparency,” Condon said in an interview. “You have to defend the city as an entity, but on the other hand, you have to do right by the citizens.”

Condon also said, based on information he’s read in news reports. that he believes Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi, who has worked on the case since the night of the confrontation, should be “dismissed immediately.”

Diane Rice, a member of Verner’s reelection committee and Verner’s daughter, said the campaign would not respond to Condon’s criticism until the city releases a statement.

A message to Treppiedi, who is a member of the Spokane School Board, was not immediately returned.

(Watch for updates to this story and for complete coverage in Wednesday’s edition of The Spokesman-Review.)

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