July 27, 2012 in City

Thompson jury query to be opened

Judge privately quizzed panel that convicted police officer
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Background and the latest updates

The secretive query of jurors who convicted former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. will be made public after a federal judge decided Thursday to unseal court records.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle said he would open the files, pending some limited work to black out the names of the jurors, following a motion to intervene by attorneys representing The Spokesman-Review.

Thompson was convicted last year in connection with his deadly confrontation with Otto Zehm.

Federal prosecutors filed documents Wednesday supporting the release of the records. Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich previously filed a separate motion indicating he did not object to the release of the records.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington said the records could be available as early as today.

Van Sickle conducted the secret hearings in May just as other attorneys were working to settle the civil lawsuit filed by Zehm’s mother and estate. Oreskovich alleged that jurors discussed the case prior to deliberations and had been exposed to media reports during the trial.

The jury convicted Thompson on Nov. 2 of using excessive force and lying to investigators during his encounter with Zehm, a 36-year-old janitor who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The evidence showed that Zehm had not committed a crime on March 18, 2006, when two young women erroneously reported that he had stolen money at a nearby ATM.

Thompson responded to the Zip Trip at 1712 N. Division St. and immediately engaged Zehm, striking him multiple times with a baton and shocking him with a Taser.

Several other officers responded to Thompson’s call for aid and they eventually hog-tied Zehm and forced him to remain on his stomach, which violated department procedure. One officer then placed a plastic mask over Zehm’s face and he eventually stopped breathing.

Zehm never regained consciousness and died two days later.

In May, city leaders settled a $1.67 million civil suit and apologized to Zehm’s mother.

Plans are in the works to place a plaque honoring Zehm’s memory at the picnic pavilion in Mission Park.

Van Sickle scheduled an Aug. 31 hearing for attorneys to argue about various efforts by Oreskovich to obtain a new trial. Thompson’s sentencing – which originally was set for Jan. 27 – will have been postponed for more than nine months since his conviction.

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