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City agrees to enter mediation over Zehm suit

Thu., Feb. 9, 2012, 4:48 p.m.

Spokane city leaders announced today that they have agreed to enter into mediation with attorneys representing the mother and estate of Otto Zehm to settle a federal lawsuit filed in 2009.

The civil case is separate from the criminal case that resulted last November with the conviction of Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. for using excessive force and lying to investigators to cover up his actions.

U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko in 2010 put the civil case on hold after Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin alleged in court records that Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi was taking information gleaned from the civil case to help defend Thompson against criminal charges.

“It’s time to move this long-standing case toward resolution, and mediation provides a tremendous opportunity to resolve this case outside of court,” Mayor Condon said in a news release. “Resolving the Zehm suit is a high priority for me and our community.”

Breean Beggs, who represents Zehm’s estate, said in the same news release that he has agreed to the format, in which a mediator helps negotiate a settlement.

“The Zehm family believes that mediation is the most constructive way to move forward towards resolving this dispute,” Breean Beggs said in the release.

Zehm, a mentally-ill janitor, died on March 20, 2006, which was two days after he was confronted by a baton-wielding Thompson inside the Zip Trip at 1712 N. Division St.

A video showed that Thompson immediately engaged Zehm, 36, who had not committed a crime. Police responded after two young women erroneously reported that Zehm had taken money from a nearby ATM machine.

After the confrontation, in which Thompson beat Zehm with a baton and shocked him with a Taser, police found a paycheck in his hand.

Thompson has yet to be sentenced. U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle postponed the sentencing after an expert witness claimed that federal prosecutors incorrectly summarized his testimony if he had been called at trial.


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