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Stephens named acting police chief but only through weekend

Mayor-elect David Condon said today that Acting Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens will lead the Spokane Police Department, but his appointment so far is extremely temporary.

Condon, who will become mayor at midnight on Jan. 1, said he has agreed to have Stephens lead the department "through the weekend."

Stephens was a major in the department under retiring Chief Anne Kirkpatrick until Kirkpatrick named him acting assistant chief this fall after Assistant Chief Jim Nicks went on sick leave.

Jim Nicks testifies at Thompson trial

Assistant Spokane Police Chief Jim Nicks told jurors in Officer Karl Thompson's excessive force trial this morning that Thompson approached him a year ago and told him he'd tried to take back his initial statement about Otto Zehm lunging at him.

At the request of federal prosecutors, Nicks also read to jurors an email sent to police employees the night of Thompson's fatal confrontation with Zehm on March 18, 2006.

Written by Tom Lee, SPD public information officer at the time, the email doesn't name Thompson but said an officer responding to a report of a suspicious person encountered a "large and strong" man who "immediately lunged" at him.

The man was controlled after several minutes of "hand to hand combat," according to the email, but stopped breathing without warning after medics responded.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin asked Nicks, wearing a dark suit instead of a police uniform, if the information in the email was consistent with what he heard when he talked to police at the Zip Trip.

"Yes, that's very accurate," Nicks responded.

Nicks then told jurors that, about a year ago, Thompson approached him at the Public Safety Building and told him he'd corrected him about the lunge statement, which Nicks disputes.

"That would have been very memorable, and I don't have any memory of such a conversation," Nicks told jurors.

Prosecutors ended questioning by asking Nicks if anyone ever corrected him about the claim that Zehm lunged at Thompson.

"No," Nicks said.

In cross examination, defense lawyer Steve Lamberson emphasized that Nicks never actually talked to Thompson that night. Thompson never told Nicks Zehm lunged at him, Lamberson said.

"That's correct," Nicks said.

Lamberson went over Lee's email and focused on statements that the Taser was ineffective, and it took several minutes of hand-to-hand combat to control Zehm.

He also pointed out that Nicks never bothered to correct statements he'd made to the media after he reviewed the video. Nicks replied that he was waiting for the investigation to be complete.

Lamberson also pointed out that Thompson is still employed by the Spokane Police Department.

Spokane County Medical Examiner Sally Aiken is testifying now. Get minute-by-minute updates from the trial here.

Spokane police Officer Tim Moses' lawyer, Chris Bugbee, stopped by the live feed of the trial at the Spokane federal courthouse and said Moses is ready to be in Yakima tomorrow to testify.

Retired SPD cpl. testifies in Zehm case

A retired Spokane police corporal who was on scene after Karl Thompson confronted Otto Zehm was declared an adverse witness Tuesday as prosecutors described his friendship with Thompson.

That designation allowed prosecutors to ask retired Cpl. Ty R. Johnson leading questions during his testimony Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Yakima.

When asked if Thompson was a friend, Johnson (pictured left) said "I would hope so."  He said they worked patrol together, and Thompson goes to Christmas parties at his home and also just to visit.

Johnson also said yes when asked if he'd rather not be testifying in the government's case.

Johnson said he was at the Zip Trip after the confrontation to photograph evidence in a possible case of felony assault by Zehm against Thompson and Officer Steve Braun, the second officer on scene.

Defense lawyer Carl Oreskovich emphasized in cross examination that Johnson's duty wasn't to get the whole story from Thompson.

Oreskovich introduced Johnson's evidence photos to jurors, including a close-up picture of Thompson that showed red marks on his cheeks. Oreskovich pointed out each one.

On re-direct questioning from prosecution, Johnson was asked about the claim that Zehm lunged at Thompson. "I'm asking whether he told you that night that Mr. Zehm had assaulted him?" the prosecutor asked.

 "I guess, I would assume," Johnson said, adding that Sgt. Dan Torok was also on scene and the decision had been made to investigate a possible assault by Zehm, so the statement had to have been made at some point.

"I have idea where it came from. I never used it and it's never been used to me," Johnson says of Zehm's alleged lunge.

Johnson said he never used the word lunged.

"I have no idea who initiated it," Johnson said.

Johnson retired from the Spokane Police Department in July after 25 years. His testimony previewed what's expected to be a big day of testimony today from Spokane Police Department employees, including Assistant Chief Jim Nicks (pictured right).

Prosecutors disclosed Tuesday that Nicks said Monday night that Thompson tried to manipulate his testimony about the lunge statement in a conversation a year ago. Read more in Tom Clouse's report from the Yakima courtroom.

I'll be following the trial all day today with minute-by-minute updates on my Twitter page.

Officer Tim Moses is on the witness list. Prosecutors said last week that Moses may invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination but said Tuesday that he's expected to be offered immunity.

Testimony begins at 9 a.m. Stay tuned.

Spokane police prepare for busy time

It's going to be a big few months for the Spokane Police Department.

With pending leadership changes and the federal trial of Officer Karl F. Thompson for the death of Otto Zehm set to begin next week, the department is preparing for a stressful time, as Capt. Frank Scalise said in the latest employee newsletter.

Scalise (pictured) said police are used to dealing with unpredictable change, "but the control part creates a little anxiety or frustration," he said. "Critical incidents, whatever our involvement, add to this," Scalise wrote. "Media coverage, particularly if not entirely favorable or even accurate, compounds this further."

Scalise offers this advice to navigate what he calls "these sometimes treacherous waters of change."

"I would offer you two things to remember. One is that you are involved in an extraordinarily difficult, honorable profession. Take pride in that. You’re part of the SPD. You’re part of your individual team within the SPD. I know the good work you’re doing, and so do you. Be proud," Scalise wrote. "Secondly, remember what we can control – how we treat each other. This is true at all times, but even more so when we get into difficult times. We are likely facing such a time over the next six months – legal events, media coverage, and leadership change. Any of these events would be a big change all by itself, much less all at once. At these times, we need to pull together as a family. Treat each other well. Look out for each other. Because no matter what else changes, we know we can count on each other."

The entire newsletter is available in PDF format here.

City to begin search for new chief in ‘12

The City of Spokane expects to begin a regional or national search for a new police chief by next spring, officials said today.

Spokane Police Department employees are interested in the position but "we also have a desire to look outside the department," City Administrator Ted Danek told the Public Safety Committee at its monthly meeting. 

Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks recently announced plans to retire when Chief Anne Kirkpatrick leaves early next year.

Kirkpatrick has said she'll stay until a new chief is appointed, which officials say won't happen until after the mayoral election.

"People are not going to apply until they know who the boss is," Kirkpatrick said.

Danek said the search, which could take three to six months, could begin in March or April.

Kirkpatrick has always said she planned to stay in Spokane about five years. She said she's looking at other opportunities.

"It's not a retirement, I'm just moving to a different stage in my life," said Kirkpatrick, adding that neither she nor Nicks will be "lame ducks" in the meantime.

Spokane police majors Scott Stephens and Craig Meidl said after the meeting that they are not interested in applying to be the next police chief.

Past coverage:

Sept. 15: Nicks to retire as Kirkpatrick steps down

April 20: Chief says time in Spokane nearing end


Nicks to retire as Kirkpatrick steps down

The Spokane Police Department’s top two officers are on their way out, leaving city officials to find new leadership as they struggle with the continuing legal fallout surrounding the death of Otto Zehm.

 Assistant Chief Jim Nicks announced Tuesday his upcoming retirement will coincide with the previously announced departure of Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

 Nicks, who is 53 and has spent 30 years on the force, played a pivotal role in the city’s handling of the fatal 2006 confrontation involving the unarmed Zehm.

At that time, Nicks was acting police chief and publicly backed the actions of Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., telling the community that the 36-year-old mentally ill Zehm “attacked” and “lunged” at Thompson.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

April 20: Chief says time in Spokane nearing end

More on Verner’s clarification on city’s Employee of the Month award

When Mayor Mary Verner made a point last week of explaining the process for selecting the city's Employee of the Month, she not only released the four-page set of rules, but the list of members on the selection committee.

Two members have indirect connections to the controversy surrounding the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.

Verner, responding to a Spokesman-Review opinion column that criticized the selection in December 2010 of Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi, said last week that she does not pick the winners. Treppiedi was criticized by federal officials in 2009 for his handling of the city’s defense in a lawsuit brought by Zehm’s family. City attorneys responded that the concerns were "baseless" and accused them of trying to manage the civil case.

Treppiedi was recommended for the award by the city’s Employee Recognition Committee, Verner said. She acknowledged that she can override the committee’s recommendation, but said she never has. The rules for Employee of the Month were written in 2005.

At the time of Treppiedi’s selection, the 10-member Employee Recognition Committee, which is made up largely of representatives of city unions, included Spokane Police Guild President Ernie Wuthrich and Capt. Steve Braun.

Nicks changes story on Zehm’s death


Spokane Mayor Mary Verner Tuesday acknowledged that the city is re-evaluating its legal position in the Otto Zehm controversy after new court documents indicate officers violated use-of-force and other departmental policies in the fatal 2006 confrontation.

According to court records filed last week in the upcoming federal trial against Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson, Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks is prepared to testify that major crimes detectives failed to analyze the video of the confrontation compared to Thompson’s statement; they never followed up on a report from an ambulance crew that Thompson struck Zehm in the head with a baton; and his own review of the video shows that Thompson violated several policies and procedures by applying unjustified force against the retreating Zehm.

Read the rest of the story here.

A commemoration of the death of Otto Zehm…

Good morning, Netizens…

Lest anyone forget today is the fourth anniversary of the Otto Zehm murder at the hand of the Spokane Police Department, a date that not even the Spokesman-Review’s own Doug Clark could not willfully overlook here: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2010/mar/18/four-years-later-lets-not-forget-otto-zehm/

PJALS has sent out the following invitation to attend a demonstration which states, in part, Don’t forget about the vigil for Otto Zehm, Thursday, March 18 at 12:00 noon in front of the Zip Trip/Cenex at N. 1712 Division (just south of the White elephant).

Due to my “real day job” and the short notice given of this public event, unfortunately I will be unable to attend this important event.

Perhaps someone can sit down and write a cogent explanation of why Otto Zehm was killed. Thus far, in my opinion, all the information we have received from Acting Police Chief Jim Nicks simply does not hold up well to public scrutiny, and the Office of the Police Ombudsman lacks the proper authority to prosecute those involved.

I have been told that John Olsen will attend this event and perhaps get some pictures which will be uploaded as quickly as they arrive.