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
Charges expected against two more Spokane officers
March 22, 2012 in City, News Federal obstruction charges are expected to be filed soon against two more Spokane Police officers in connection with the city’s handling of the Otto Zehm investigation, which U.S. Department of … 49
Doug Clark: Justice for Otto Zehm is close at hand
March 20, 2012 in City on Page A5 Four or five other customers were ahead of me when I sauntered into the convenience store on Sunday’s sunny afternoon. No worries. Despite the Zip Trip name on the signage, … 16
Karl Thompson seeks new trial in Otto Zehm case
March 20, 2012 in City on Page A5 Former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. wants a new trial because an expert witness now claims a federal prosecutor bullied him, and he alleges for the first time … 65
Condon fires city attorney
March 2, 2012 in City on Page A1 In the biggest shakeup of his administration yet, Spokane Mayor David Condon on Thursday fired City Attorney Howard Delaney following worsening criticism of the legal office’s handling of a series … 81
Spokane Mayor Condon fires City Attorney Delaney
March 1, 2012 in City, News Spokane City Attorney Howard Delaney, under fire for his handling of the Otto Zehm case and more recently its negotiated settlement to rehire an alcoholic police sergeant who fled from … 115
Thompson request OK’d
Feb. 11, 2012 in City on Page A6 A federal judge Friday granted a request by the attorney for former Spokane police officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to allow lawyers to interview a government expert witness who claims … 7
City, Zehm family will enter mediation regarding lawsuit
Feb. 10, 2012 in City on Page A1 In the first significant step toward a possible settlement, Spokane city leaders and attorneys representing the mother and estate of Otto Zehm announced late Thursday that they will enter mediation … 25
Panel will review police policies, procedures
Feb. 5, 2012 in City on Page A1 To understand why the Spokane Police Department’s use-of-force training is under a microscope, consider this disconnect: Although the state’s top police trainer concluded that the fatal 2006 confrontation with unarmed … 52
Thompson kudos cited in court
Feb. 2, 2012 in City on Page A5 A Spokane police officer who says he feared for his life after being threatened by a felon was asked in court Wednesday about supportive comments he posted on a Facebook … 211
SPD officer questioned in court about support for Thompson
Feb. 1, 2012 in City, News A Spokane police officer who says he feared for his life after being threatened by a felon was asked in court Wednesday about supportive comments he posted on a Facebook … 67
Body cameras considered for Spokane police officers
Jan. 27, 2012 in City on Page A1 Spokane’s elected leaders are ready to push for the use of body cameras on police officers to record their interactions with the public. The Spokane City Council on Feb. 6 … 64
Spokane leaders outline proposed police reforms
Jan. 26, 2012 in City, News The Spokane City Council has unveiled its list of proposed police reforms, including body cameras for officers, restored independent investigative authority for the police ombudsman and posting internal affairs investigations … 30
Doug Clark: Thompson’s ‘responsibility’ stance tests justice
Jan. 26, 2012 in City on Page A5 And now for the latest in legalized leg pulling. Ex-Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson Jr. has “accepted responsibility” for pounding Otto Zehm to pulp in 2006 and lying to investigators … 52
Officer seeks lower sentence
Jan. 25, 2012 in City on Page A5 A federal prosecutor is objecting to a request by convicted former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to reduce his potential prison sentence on the grounds that he has … 61
Ex-chief justice joins police use of force panel
Jan. 25, 2012 in City on Page A8 A recently retired state Supreme Court justice has agreed to serve on a city commission examining how the Spokane Police Department uses force. The membership of the city’s Use of … 4
Thompson seeks sentence reduction
Jan. 24, 2012 in City, News A federal prosecutor is objecting to a request by convicted former Spokane Police officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to reduce his potential prison sentence because he claims to have taken … 69
Judge postpones Thompson sentencing
Jan. 6, 2012 in City on Page A1 The upcoming sentencing hearing for former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. was postponed Thursday to give defense attorneys more time to investigate recent developments that might bolster their … 84
Ex-SPD officer’s sentencing hearing postponed
Jan. 5, 2012 in City, News The upcoming sentencing hearing for former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. was postponed Thursday to give defense attorneys more time to investigate recent developments that might bolster their … 94
Verner looks back at trials, triumphs
Thompson defense seeks new trial
Dec. 24, 2011 in City on Page A5 Defense attorneys for convicted Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. filed a motion Friday claiming everything from judicial error to juror misconduct in their attempt to persuade a federal … 83