A jury convicted Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. of needlessly beating Otto Zehm and then lying about it to cover up his actions. The verdict was delivered in federal court in Yakima on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011 – five years and seven months since Zehm’s life ended and questions of police accountability began.
On March 18, 2006, Otto Zehm was beaten, shocked and hog-tied by police officers in a north Spokane Zip Trip, after he was accused erroneously of theft. He died two days later at a Spokane hospital. Thompson was the first responding officer.
On May 21, 2012, the Spokane City Council closed one chapter of the excessive force case by finalizing the $1.67 million settlement with the family of Otto Zehm. The deal was reached in mediation between city representatives, including Mayor David Condon, and Zehm family attorneys.
Condon has issued a handwritten apology to Zehm’s mother, Anna, and recently, the Spokane Park Board placed a memorial plaque for Zehm in Mission Park. Also, the police department must provide crisis-intervention training for all Spokane police officers who aren’t scheduled to retire within a year and provide $50,000 for a consultant to help the city implement changes to its use-of-force policy.
At the Zip Trip convenience store, officers confronted Zehm, 36, who was holding a pop bottle. Zehm was beaten with a baton, shocked with a Taser and left “hogtied” on the floor.
In May 2006, Spokane County Medical Examiner Sally Aiken ruled that Zehm died as a result of homicide, with lack of oxygen to the brain as the official cause.
In March 2009, the Center for Justice filed a federal civil rights suit against the city of Spokane and nine of its police officers on behalf of Zehm’s family. The lawsuit alleged that officers used excessive force and that the police department and its former acting chief, Jim Nicks, engaged in a conspiracy to portray Zehm as the aggressor.
In June 2009, a federal grand jury handed down two indictments against Thompson, accusing him of violating Zehm’s civil rights.
Documents filed in April 2010 raised serious new allegations in the case. In them, federal prosecutors suggest members of the Spokane Police Department tried to cover up their handling of the confrontation with Zehm and that the agency’s investigation clearing officers of wrongdoing was incomplete and inaccurate.
A timeline of the case shows five years of complex legal wrangling involving the criminal case against Thompson and a $2.9 million civil claim by Zehm’s mother and estate against the city of Spokane.
Recently unsealed federal court files show that the lead investigator within the police department, detective Terry Ferguson, knew that if the video of Zehm’s death became public, the results would be ‘inflammatory.’ Thompson also sent emails to police union officials requesting that they research deaths caused by a condition known as ‘excited delirium.’
Thompson’s sentencing on Nov. 15, 2012 followed a complex legal process that included a rare re-examination of jurors. Federal authorities also have questioned the legitimacy of Thompson’s divorce, which was used as a basis for a judge to declare him indigent, allowing Thompson to use more than half a million dollars in taxpayer money for his defense.
Updated Nov. 28, 2012 by Riley Jessett, intern
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Latest updates in this topic
U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear ex-police officer’s appeal of Zehm case conviction
Dec. 17, 2014 in City on Page A1 Former Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson Jr.’s legal battle to overturn his conviction in the 2006 death of Otto Zehm ended at the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The nation’s … 78
Doug Clark: Thompson verdict is the gift that keeps on taking
June 19, 2014 in City on Page A5 Think of the post-conviction phase of Karl Thompson as a big, colorful piñata that his Scheme Team defenders get to whack and whack at until it finally bursts open and … 17
Karl Thompson’s conviction upheld in Otto Zehm death
June 18, 2014 in City on Page A5 A federal appeals court panel on Tuesday upheld the conviction of former Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson. The three judges denied claims by Thompson’s attorneys that courtroom errors following the … 34
Appeals court upholds Karl Thompson’s conviction in death of Otto Zehm
June 17, 2014 in City A federal appeals court panel has upheld the conviction of former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson. The three judges ruled that Thompson doesn’t deserve a new trial in the 2006 … 188
Karl Thompson appeal argued in court
June 3, 2014 in City on Page A5 Attorneys for imprisoned former Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson argued Monday that prosecutors did not turn over important evidence before trial. Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich told the 9th U.S. Circuit … 88
City Council approves new Spokane police contract, oversight law
Feb. 11, 2014 in City on Page A5 Three more months of public debate, news conferences and negotiations have led to the Spokane City Council’s approval of a new police oversight law and union contract. After unanimously rejecting … 127
Spokane police course focuses on mental health crisis
Dec. 12, 2013 in City on Page A6 A man with a history of mental illness is allegedly breaking into his neighbor’s apartment at all hours of the day, stealing items and causing a headache for the landlord. … 62
Police chief touts progress on Use of Force recommendations
Aug. 22, 2013 in City on Page A1 Spokane police Chief Frank Straub said Wednesday that his department has made significant progress on every one of the 26 recommendations issued by the city’s Use of Force Commission in … 17
Timothy Moses pleads guilty to lying in Otto Zehm case
May 8, 2013 in City on Page A1 Spokane police Officer Timothy Moses pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to federal agents in 2009 as they investigated the fatal confrontation between his friend, Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., and … 17
Nicks’ badge reflected honor in Zehm case
SPD’s Moses pleads guilty to lying to FBI
May 7, 2013 in City Spokane Police Officer Timothy Moses resigned today before pleading guilty to making a false statement to FBI investigators during the case that ultimately convicted his friend, Karl F. Thompson Jr, … 38
Spokane police officer to admit lie in Zehm testimony
April 25, 2013 in City on Page A1 A Spokane police officer will resign and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of lying during the investigation of the fatal 2006 police confrontation with Otto Zehm, authorities said Wednesday. … 48
Spokane cop expected to resign in Zehm plea deal
April 24, 2013 in City Another Spokane police officer is facing a criminal charge in connection with the fatal 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm. Officer Timothy Moses, 52, was quietly charged last week in Spokane … 72
Thompson won’t pay for Zehm restitution
March 13, 2013 in City on Page A1 A federal judge rejected demands that former Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson Jr. pay $825,000 in restitution to taxpayers and the family of Otto Zehm. Thompson is imprisoned in Safford, … 38
Spokane police to get federal review
Feb. 16, 2013 in City on Page A1 After years of controversy and calls for outside scrutiny, U.S. Department of Justice officials will arrive next week to begin reviewing police shootings and other uses of force by Spokane … 46
Feds to review Spokane Police uses of force
Feb. 15, 2013 in City After years of controversy and calls for outside scrutiny, U.S. Justice Department officials will arrive next week to begin reviewing police shootings and other use of force by Spokane Police … 68
Ombudsman power in the mail for vote
Input sought on use of force report
Jan. 17, 2013 in City on Page A5 Several community members on Wednesday thanked the city of Spokane’s Use of Force Commission for months of work, and police Chief Frank Straub said he and Mayor David Condon will … 7
Thompson restitution challenged
Jan. 12, 2013 in City on Page B1 Former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.’s attorneys argued Friday that Thompson shouldn’t have to pay restitution stemming from his criminal conviction for using excessive force against Otto Zehm. … 29
Thompson argues against Zehm restitution
Jan. 11, 2013 in City Former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.’s attorneys argued today that a judge should not force Thompson to pay any restitution stemming from his criminal conviction for using excessive … 64