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
By content type
Latest updates in this topic
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
Deliberations in excessive force trial to continue
Nov. 1, 2011 in City, News The jury deciding the excessive force trial of Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. deliberated has completed about seven hours of deliberations without rendering a verdict. 49
Thompson case goes to jurors
Nov. 1, 2011 in City on Page A1 YAKIMA – Jurors were asked Monday to decide whether Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. is a “rogue cop” and liar who hid behind a departmental coverup, or a … 59
Prosecutors ask jury to convict Thompson for ‘brutal’ attack
Doug Clark: There’s a stink in the courtroom and the hotel room
Oct. 30, 2011 in City on Page B1 Karl Thompson’s version of what happened when he took down Otto Zehm sounds like one of those melees that are staple to TV cop shows. Barking orders. Officer-and-suspect squaring off. … 41
Thompson admits ‘errors’ in statement to investigators
Oct. 29, 2011 in City on Page B1 YAKIMA – Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. finished his second day of testimony Friday, acknowledging again that he made some errors in his taped statement describing the 2006 … 19
Thompson admits errors in Zehm report
Oct. 28, 2011 in City, News YAKIMA – Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. finished his second day of testimony Friday, acknowledging again that he made some errors in his taped statement describing the 2006 … 46
Thompson describes fatal confrontation
Police training expert defends use of force
Oct. 27, 2011 in City on Page A5 YAKIMA – One of the Spokane Police Department’s top trainers told a jury Wednesday that any situation could justify an officer’s use of force, even taking a burglary report in … 41
Officers say Thomspon followed his training
Zehm update: Police training, response explained
Oct. 26, 2011 in City Jurors got a taste today of the unpredictability that officers face through the testimony of the defensive tactics trainer who instructed Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. how to … 25
Backup officer takes stand
Another defense expert disputes Zehm head strikes
Oct. 25, 2011 in City, News A second defense expert has testified that head injuries suffered by Otto Zehm didn’t come from a police baton. The Tuesday morning testimony by Dr. Dan Davis, a forensic pathologist, … 61
Defense launches its case
Oct. 25, 2011 in City on Page A5 YAKIMA – After nearly two weeks of critical prosecution testimony, defense attorneys for Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. opened their case Monday with a medical doctor who told … 19
Zehm update: Judge declines to dismiss force charge
Oct. 24, 2011 in City Enough evidence of excessive force against Otto Zehm has been presented to let the case proceed, Judge Fred Van Sickle ruled today, rejecting defense arguments that one of the charges … 127
Condon to open coffers for TV ad blitz
Oct. 23, 2011 in City on Page B10 Spokane voters likely will have plenty of chances in the next few weeks to see David Condon on TV. The candidate who is challenging Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has spent … 8