The attorney representing Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. filed a motion today asking a federal judge to move the upcoming Oct. 11 trial because of “intense” media coverage and because it has become a political issue in the upcoming mayoral election.
Carl Oreskovich acknowledged in his filing that the deadline for such motions ended on July 21. He wrote in his court filing that he had been withholding his request for change of venue to see if attorneys had difficulty finding a jury to hear evidence about the fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm.
“Since that (July) date, there has been a marked upsurge of publicity and political attention surrounding this case, including dramatic public reaction to the 22 page declaration of Assistant Chief Nicks filed on Aug. 5, 2011,” Oreskovich wrote.
Thompson is charged with using unreasonable force and lying to investigators following the March 18, 2006, confrontation with 36-year-old, mentally-ill Zehm at the Zip Trip at 1712 N. Division St.
Thompson was the first officer to respond after two young women erroneously reported that Zehm had stolen money out of a nearby ATM. Thompson entered the store and used a baton to strike Zehm, who was holding a 2-liter soda bottle.
The struggle continued for several minutes and eventually included six other officers, who hogtied Zehm and placed a plastic mask over his mouth, and according to court records, put their weight on Zehm until he stopped breathing. He died two days later.
Assistant Chief Nicks, who earlier this week announced his upcoming retirement, initially told the public that Zehm “lunged” and “attacked” Thompson. But he told federal investigators a different story and is expected to testify that Thompson used a level of force not authorized by department policies and that his department conducted an incomplete investigation.
When more information of his upcoming testimony was filed in court records, the controversy spilled over into the race for mayor as challenger David Condon criticized incumbent Mayor Mary Verner for how she and other city leaders have handled the situation over the past several years.
“Due to the recent politicizing and barrage of media coverage,” Oreskovich wrote, “I am compelled to bring a motion to change venue at this time because the coverage has resulted in presumed prejudice making it impossible for Officer Thompson to receive a fair trial in this venue.”
He asked Van Sickle for permission to file a 33-page brief supporting his motion, which will include “excerpts and analyzes a select portion of articles and news broadcasts.”
Oreskovich did not immediately respond today for an interview request and Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin said he could not comment about any aspect of the case.