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Condon calls Zehm case “indictment” on city government

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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