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Doug Clark: Layer after layer, Zehm investigation stinks

Doug Clark
Doug Clark

I was a kid in my 20s when the Watergate scandal unraveled.

(Note to young people: This was before Facebook and even bigger than Bieber Fever.)

The thing I remember most is how as the scandal unfolded, each revelation smelled worse than the previous stinking morsel.

What began as a botched break-in at a Washington, D.C., office evolved into a sleazy tale of rotten politics, shady lying officials and a cover-up involving Richard Nixon, one of the most corrupt presidents this nation has ever known.

Is it just me, or is anybody else experiencing similarly queasy feelings as new disclosures emerge about the shameful 2006 death of an innocent Spokane man named Otto Zehm?

Wrongly reported as a possible thief, Zehm was beaten to a pulp and shocked with a stun gun by Karl Thompson Jr., the first officer to arrive at the North Division convenience store where Zehm was buying a snack.

The mentally ill janitor died two days following the attack.

That’s just the peak of what’s turning out to be a vast, dirty iceberg.

Nearly six months have passed since a federal jury convicted Thompson of using excessive force and lying to investigators about the savagery he unleashed on Zehm.

The release of previously secret grand jury transcripts now gives us a disquieting look at the way Spokane Police Department administrators and others allowed this case to be mishandled.

Involved cops, we learn, were given three days to mull over (or maybe get their stories straight?) what had happened before having to write any reports.

Doing homework alone can be such a bummer.

So prior to any report writing, said individuals were allowed to band together in a room at the Monroe Court building along with one of their union lawyers.

We now know that at least one incident report from this cozy cop confab was read by the aforementioned shyster.

Strictly for grammatical purposes, I’m sure.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez has called the Zehm case “an extensive cover-up” and a “violent abuse of power.”

I call it a whitewash that could strain the community’s view of its law enforcement for years to come.

Reading these alarming disclosures makes me also wonder:

How many out there are still chugging the Kool-Aid?

I’m talking to you true believers who see Thompson as a misunderstood hero who got a raw deal in court last November.

Aren’t you about ready to scrape the scales off your eyes?

As more and more facts emerge, we’re seeing a pattern of calculated deceit that spreads forth like the roots of a tree.

“The appearance of malfeasance is so strong,” Spokane attorney Jeffry Finer observed the other day in S-R reporter Thomas Clouse’s excellent story.

“Why did no one in the government say this is wrong, that this is not proper investigation?”

That’s a multimillion-dollar question, Jeff.

And as with Watergate, I’m dying to know just how far the rot goes.

The name Rocky Treppiedi sure keeps popping up with a disturbing regularity.

“I think it’s fundamentally flawed when one person dispensed advice and then defends that advice,” observed Spokane Mayor David Condon when asked about the assistant city attorney.

If Rocky’s still earning a city paycheck a month from now I’ll be positively shocked.

Buckle your seat belts, folks. This demolition derby has barely begun.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or

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