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
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 … 14
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
February 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
February 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
January 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
January 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
January 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
Police face reorganization
December 22, 2012 in City on Page B1 The Spokane Police Department, hoping to restore public confidence, will embark on a major reorganization next month designed to make existing resources more efficient at achieving the ultimate goal of … 15
Organizational shakeup coming for Spokane police
December 21, 2012 in City The Spokane Police Department, hoping to restore public confidence and rebuild its tarnished image, will embark on a major reorganization next month that’s intended to give the agency greater crime-fighting … 49
Use of force panel offers 26 recommendations to improve police department
December 21, 2012 in City on Page A5 A yearlong review of the Spokane Police Department found a professional organization committed to public service but lacking in identity and needing improvements in how it investigates its own officers. … 32
Commission seeks list of changes for SPD
December 20, 2012 in City The long-awaited draft report by the independent City of Spokane Use of Force Commission was released today and it calls the Spokane Police Department to change how it polices itself … 24
Clark: Justice finally served in Thompson case
November 18, 2012 in City on Page B1 It’s a good day, Spokane. There’s no snow in the potholes, the river’s still running and Karl Thompson Jr. is already ensconced in a federal lockup on the other side … 83
Thompson being held in federal center in Seattle
November 17, 2012 in City on Page B1 Former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. is in a federal detention center south of Seattle, at least temporarily. The Federal Bureau of Prisons doesn’t yet have Thompson in … 46
Thompson now in Seattle federal detention
Thompson gets 51 months in prison
November 16, 2012 in City on Page A1 After being handed a sentence Thursday of more than four years in federal prison – the culmination of six years of investigations, legal action and community soul-searching – former Spokane … 79