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Thompson supporters express outrage

Snickers candy bars, flowers and 2-liter bottles of Pepsi were left curbside today in front of the Zip Trip on Division at Augusta, where Otto Zehm lost consciousness during a March 2006 confrontation wth Spokane police officers, He died two days later. (SRPhoto/Dan Pelle)

The Spokane Police Department rank-and-file is reeling amidst the conviction and subsequent jailing of Officer Karl Thompson. 

Dozens of officers attended a standing-room only hearing at the federal courthouse today in Spokane, where Thompson was taken into custody after U.S. Magistrate James Hutton ordered his immediate detention. 

As Thompson, now a convicted felon, walked unhandcuffed out of the courtroom with U.S. Marshals, a supporter yelled "PRESENT ARMS!" and officers saluted. Several supporters sobbed. None wished to speak to media. Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Mayor Mary Verner later apologized for the outburst.

Jeffry Finer, attorney for Zehm's family, called the response "really unusual and very sad."

"I am shocked the the willingness to ignore the fact that 12 jurors from another community found that what Officer Thompson did was a criminal act," Finer said.

This afternoon, Thompson's lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, filed an emergency motion to get Thompson out of jail.

Administrators of the "We Support Karl Thompson" Facebook page have been busy scrubbing critical comments from the page while expressing their support for a man who is a mentor to many in the department.

Thompson, who was drafted by his coworkers to be police chief in January 2006, worked patrol for more than three years after the fatal March 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm. After he was indicted by a grand jury in October 2009, he was given an administrative desk job that includes working with training bulletins and worked up until his trial began. 

He's now in federal custody, but not in Spokane County, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich confirmed. Prosecutors are said to be seeking an 8- to 10-year prison sentence.(Thompson is pictured outside his trial in Yakima earlier this month.)

Supporters of Thompson have taken to Facebook to express their outrage.

The page's creator, Spokane police Sgt. Kevin King, wrote that he was "stunned, angered and sickened by this week's events.

"I am struggling with how to go to work tonight. People are so naive about what police officers really have to encounter every day on the job," King wrote. "The ironic part is that we put our lives at risk day in and day out so others can go about their normal lives with this naivety."

King said he's suffered broken bones, two surgeries and scarring all over his body while a police officer.

"I’ve lost track how many times the thought ”this is it’” went through my head," he wrote.

"Karl is a better cop and a better man than me. If this can happen to him, then it can happen to me. I’ve always felt supported by our community. I no longer feel that," King continued. "I’ll be at work tonight with my brothers and sisters. We will support each other while we are threatened, spit upon, assaulted, and put our lives on the line- for you. My heart is with you, Karl."

A reader emailed The Spokesman-Review to express concern that her comment saying "that a probably good cop crossed the line and became Judge, Jury and Executioner" on the page had been removed.

Supporters say the page is not intended to be a forum to debate the case, only to show Thompson support.

The page has jumped from about 500 supporters to nearly 600 in less than a day. When it had 525 fans, a critic posted a since-deleted comment that read "525 Fascists "LIKE" this! What ever."

Past coverage:

Oct. 17: Police use '505' to support Thompson