Please join me as I declare today – Aug. 9, 2012 – Diane Riley Appreciation Day.
You still have to go to work, of course. City garbage pickups will continue without interruption.
This is a symbolic day of recognition for a woman who has exhibited the sort of guts we don’t see very often.
The subject of reporter Tom Clouse’s front-page story Wednesday, Riley was the forewoman on the federal jury that convicted Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson last November down in Yakima town.
Thompson was nailed on two counts:
Guilty of using excessive force in his 2006 quickie-mart beatdown of Otto Zehm; guilty of lying to investigators afterward to cover his tracks.
Zehm was clubbed, shocked and hog-tied like an animal.
After paramedics arrived, some genius put a plastic mask with a minuscule breathing hole over his face supposedly as a spit shield.
Except nobody bothered to hook the mask to a source of oxygen.
Otto died two days later.
Thompson, to the contempt of anyone who gives a hoot about justice, remains free on simply his signature while members of his taxpayer-funded Scheme Team come up with whatever hocus-pocus they can to invalidate the verdict and win a new trial.
Riley, too, finds this situation offensive.
She blames defense lawyers for twisting the words she spoke in after-trial interviews. She said as much in a frank letter to U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Secrets way back in December.
Oops, I meant Van Sickle.
It’s easy to get confused. Van Sickle wanted Riley’s letter and transcripts from defense interviews with jurors kept far away from public eyes.
But thanks to a recent motion filed by lawyers representing this newspaper, Riley’s letter and some previously sealed documents are beginning to see daylight.
This is a proud moment for the S-R.
Despite these rough economic times it’s great to know that we’re still willing to spend money on things that matter.
Riley’s articulate letter should certainly be seen.
Her words resonate with anyone who fairly watched that shocking Zip Trip video. The in-store cameras captured the violence Thompson unleashed on Zehm, who had erroneously been reported as a possible thief.
Riley and the other jurors watched the video in court. They listened to the testimony. They heard the arguments.
When it was time, the jurors pooled their thoughts and arrived at a decision: The veteran officer had committed a willful, premeditated act of excessive force.
What happened in Yakima was reassuring proof that the system can still work.
“Mr. Thompson was tried and found guilty by a fair, honest and intelligent jury of his peers,” Riley wrote to Van Sickle.
“As I tried to express in my public comment, it is indeed a very sad ending to Mr. Thompson’s long career; but the court should not allow counsel to misconstrue the expressions of sympathy for another human being to be the basis for overshadowing the pragmatic process used by jury members to find a verdict.”
Oh, I know what’s coming now.
Whenever I weigh in on this case, in come the emails and letters urging me to knock it off.
“Spokane is not going to heal and move on if you continue to bring up the Otto Zehm catastrophe,” wrote one letter writer after my last column on the subject.
“You have made your point, it has been received by all. Now please move on.”
Or how about this dandy:
“Jesus Christ man!! We get it, okay!! Otto baby was the love of your life and you hate Thompson’s guts. GET OVER IT!!!!”
Isn’t that special?
You really have to crawl into a cold, dark place to be able to diminish the deceased innocent victim as “Otto baby.”
Well, here’s the deal.
I do realize we’ve come a long way since March 2006.
We’ve had a trial with a conviction. The city of Spokane has done an about-face from the repugnant “blame Otto” game.
We’ve settled with the Zehm family.
Mayor David Condon has formally apologized to Mrs. Zehm, one of the classiest acts I’ve seen a public official make.
Spokane will soon memorialize Otto in a city park.
These are all positive steps.
But to the dismay of my detractors, I don’t plan to abandon the so-called “Otto Zehm catastrophe.”
Not until the verdict is upheld and the guilty party sentenced.
The longer that day is delayed the more it stinks and the easier it is for people to forget what’s at stake here.
As Diane Riley so eloquently told the judge, “Mr. Thompson cannot be allowed to stand above the very law he has taken an oath to uphold.”
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