Zehm family tells judge of loss
Mother says way police treated son makes her scared to leave home
Otto Zehm’s mother fears going outside of her assisted-living home because of what Spokane police did to her only son, according to letters released Tuesday in federal court.
Otto Zehm’s cousin, Dale Zehm, expressed Anna Zehm’s thoughts in a letter that was among many victim statements that federal prosecutors submitted in advance of the Nov. 15 sentencing of former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.
Thompson was convicted Nov. 2 of using excessive force and lying to investigators about his confrontation with Zehm on March 18, 2006. Federal prosecutors have asked U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to sentence the decorated former officer to 10 years in prison, while defense attorney Carl Oreskovich last week asked the judge to consider no time behind bars.
The letters from Otto Zehm’s family members contain no recommendation to the judge of how Thompson should be punished. But they convey a profound sense of loss and fear brought by his death.
In the letter written by Dale Zehm, Anna Zehm said tears continue to appear in her eyes when she discusses losing Otto.
“Anna will never forget the death of her only son Otto,” Dale Zehm wrote. “Otto’s death has created a fear in Anna towards the police department. Anna no longer feels free to be seen outside of her residence.”
Anna Zehm told Dale that she continually worries about the safety of other family members. For that reason, she did not attend any of the four-week trial or numerous court hearings.
“Anna has said that the most painful part of Otto’s death is that his death could have been prevented,” Dale Zehm wrote. “Anna has desperately wished that those involved would tell her that they are sorry.”
Spokane Mayor David Condon personally extended apologies to Anna Zehm in May after the city agreed to settle the civil portion of the case for $1.67 million.
Dale Zehm noted that Thompson referred to Otto Zehm’s death as tragic, but Zehm said it sounded self-serving.
“It seemed like he meant his being put on trial for it was the tragedy,” Dale Zehm wrote. “As bad as it was to know that Karl Thompson had no reason to beat Otto, it was just as bad to see his efforts to cover up his wrongdoing.”
Dale Zehm was in the federal courtroom on Nov. 4 when about 50 Spokane police officers saluted as Thompson was led away for the only night in jail he has served since his conviction.
“I was disgusted by the behavior of the many police officers,” he wrote. “The officers showed no respect for our family or the legal system that they are sworn to uphold.”
The letters include several contacts Zehm made while working as a janitor for Skils’kin, a nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities find work. The letter writers wrote of a soft-spoken man with a quick smile who liked to talk about playing the guitar.
“One always felt like a bit of sunshine passed when he was on his rounds,” wrote Eric Zahl, an employee at the Spokane Research Laboratory.
Sandy Zehm, Dale Zehm’s wife, wrote that the family struggles with how to express their loss.
“We hurt the most when we imagine what Otto was going through in his own mind when he was attacked,” she wrote. “Given his last words, we know he did not understand why he was attacked.
“I don’t want revenge; I just want justice for Otto.”