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
Thompson quits SPD before disciplinary hearing
Nov. 15, 2011 in City, News Convicted Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. announced he is resigning from the Spokane Police Department one day before a scheduled interview for an internal investigation. 40
Verner seeks federal probe
Nov. 15, 2011 in City on Page A1 The entire Spokane Police Department could soon be under full federal investigation. Outgoing Mayor Mary Verner announced Monday she will ask the U.S. Justice Department to launch a “pattern and … 30
Doug Clark: Condon, put your pull where your rhetoric was
Nov. 13, 2011 in City on Page B1 We’re still weeks away from that familiar moment when Spokane’s next one-term mayor will slide behind the desk in that spiffy City Hall office with a view. Although quite frankly, … 22
Chief to step down Jan. 2
Nov. 12, 2011 in City on Page B1 Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick confirmed Friday that she will not wait for a new chief to be hired and will leave Jan. 2. Kirkpatrick has said as recently as … 9
Tucker mum on charges
Nov. 12, 2011 in City on Page A1 Ten days after a jury convicted Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. in federal court, Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker has given no indication that he will move forward in state … 71
New view of Thompson brings mixed emotions
Nov. 9, 2011 in City on Page A7 Karl Thompson looked like a whole new man. When he walked into the federal courtroom Monday, he wore yellow jailhouse garb – the blousy top a shade darker than the … 34
Judge delays decision on questioning Thompson jury
Nov. 9, 2011 in City on Page A8 A federal judge on Tuesday delayed ruling on whether jurors in the trial of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. would be questioned about television reports that might have … 4
Thompson released pending sentencing
Nov. 8, 2011 in City on Page A1 A judge ruled late Monday to release convicted Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. and could rule as early as this morning whether to bring in jurors for questioning … 49
Clark: To those who disgraced the law they swore to uphold
Nov. 6, 2011 in City on Page B1 “Members of the Spokane Police Department will so conduct their public and private lives that they exemplify the high standards of integrity, trust, and morality demanded of a member of … 111
U.S. marshals take convicted Thompson into custody
Nov. 5, 2011 in City on Page A1 Nearly 50 Spokane police officers saluted convicted Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. in federal court as U.S. marshals led him away Friday, prompting Mayor Mary Verner and police Chief Anne … 156
Karl Thompson taken into custody
Nov. 4, 2011 in City, News U.S. Marshals took convicted Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. into custody today after a federal judge ruled that his detention is appropriate pending sentencing for using excessive force … 196
Defense to seek new trial
Nov. 4, 2011 in City on Page A1 A federal judge delayed a decision whether to take convicted Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. into custody after his defense attorney said Thursday that he will seek a … 35
Thompson lawyer alleges jury misconduct
Clark: This time, the jury got it exactly right
Spokane police officer convicted of excessive force, lying
Nov. 3, 2011 in City on Page A1 YAKIMA – His jaw quivering at times, Karl F. Thompson Jr. stared straight ahead Wednesday, showing nothing but a stern look as juror after juror confirmed the guilty verdicts they’d … 83
Timeline since March 2006, when Zehm was beaten
Nov. 3, 2011 in City on Page A10 • March 18, 2006: Otto Zehm, 36, a mentally ill janitor, is beaten, shocked with a Taser and hog-tied inside a North Side Zip Trip convenience store by seven Spokane …
Quotes regarding the Thompson verdict
Conviction likely to bring changes at department
Nov. 3, 2011 in City on Page A11 The conviction of Officer Karl Thompson could mean a significant shift in the running and politics of the Spokane Police Department, some city officials and police accountability advocates said after … 7
Thompson convicted on both counts
Otto Zehm case timeline