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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Former Spokane Police officer and current federal prison inmate Karl Thompson earlier this month filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of his excessive force conviction in the March 2006 death of Otto Zehm.
The appeal, filed with the nation's highest court Oct. 22, raises a different legal issue than the argument Thompson's attorney, Carl Oreskovich, made earlier this year before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the most recent filing, Thompson says the U.S. District Court improperly allowed evidence in the 2012 trial showing Zehm was innocent of the reported crime that prompted the contact in a Spokane convenience store March 18, 2006.
Store video showed Thompson approaching Zehm and quickly begin striking him with a baton. The filing with the Supreme Court gives Thompson's version of the events. The former officer said multiple commands for Zehm to put down a two-liter Pepsi bottle were made before the blows began, a claim the federal jury who heard the case rejected.
In arguments earlier this year that were later rejected by an appellate court panel, Thompson said his legal team was not provided expert witness statements analyzing the baton strikes in the video that may have changed trial strategy. A trio of appellate judges shot down that claim in June, then the entire panel of justices on the court declined to hear the case en banc later that month.
Thompson's claim this month is known in legal parlance as a "writ of certiorari," or a formal request for the nine-member Supreme Court panel to review the rulings of a lower court. The Supreme Court receives 10,000 such requests annually and hears between 75 and 80 cases, according to its website.
Zehm, who died two days after the incident with Thompson, would have turned 45 today (Oct. 31, 2014).
Spokane is looking for volunteers to serve on the new Police Ombudsman Commission.
Applicants must undergo a background check and interviews. Application deadline is June 6 and city leaders want to have the five-member commission empaneled by mid-July.
Application materials are available at spokanecity.org.
The commission will provide independent oversight of the city's police ombudsman, who reviews internal investigations into police misconduct. The ombudsman was created following disclosure of the department's sloppy and incomplete investigation into the role of its own officers in the fatal 206 confrontation with Otto Zehm, who had been erroneously implicated in a theft and beaten, shocked with a Taser and hogtied by officers in a convenience store.
The U.S. Justice Department later described the investigation as a departmental coverup. Three officers eventually were indicted on federal charges.
Spokane developer Greg Jeffreys, who is jailed on federal charges alleging that he defrauded investors of millions of dollars, has asked a judge for a change of venue for his trial, arguing that local media “has saturated the Spokane area with prejudicial and inflammatory remarks.”
Citing primarily Spokesman-Review coverage, Jeffreys argued that half of the county’s potential jury pool had been tainted with information unrelated to the trial. The motion also cited the case against former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson, in which Thompson’s trial was moved to Yakima in 2011 after five years of “intense media coverage.” Thompson was found guilty of excessive use of force for his role in the death of Otto Zehm in 2006.
In a response to Jeffreys’ request, the government, through U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby, said claims of a prejudiced jury pool were “wholly overstated” and asked the judge to reject the request.
U.S. District Judge Rosanna Peterson will hear the request on Sept. 10 at 10 a.m.
The judge will also hear a motion from Jeffreys to suppress evidence, including oral statements from Jeffreys, because they were a “direct result of an illegal search and seizure” of Jeffreys’ 10,000-square-foot home by 24 law enforcement agents on July 19, 2012, as well of Jeffreys’ person when he was arrested at the airport on Jan. 30.
Jeffreys is known for his central role in a development plan of the Ridpath Hotel. He faces 73 felony charges ranging from bank fraud to theft, though none relate to the shuttered downtown high-rise.
After violating previous orders by a judge and threatening a business associate and FBI special agent, Judge Peterson ruled that Jeffreys must remain in jail until his January trial.
None of the Spokane Police Department's defensive tactics instructors are certified by the state and may have relied on a flawed legal interpretation while teaching officers when it's OK to use deadly force, the city's Use of Force Commission has found.
"In fact, no officers in the department have received instructor re-certification since 2007," the group, empaneled by Mayor David Condon, wrote in its 177-page draft report.
The commission was formed to review the police department's operations following widespread public outcry over the city's handling of the fatal 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm, who was wrongly implicated in a potential theft and then beaten by officers until he lost consciousness and died two days later. Former SPD Officer Karl Thompson Jr. was ordered last year to serve a little over four years in prison after being convicted of excessive use of force and lying to investigators.
Spokane City Hall is hoping residents will review the report and send their thoughts and comments on its findings. A copy of the report, along with a link for where you can comment, can be found here: http://www.spokanecity.org/services/articles/?ArticleID=2927. The city is accepting public comments through Jan. 30.
The commission made 26 recommendations for improving the police department, which Condon and new Police Chief Frank Straub are reviewing and promise to embrace. The draft report was unveiled Dec. 20.
Among them is the need to ensure that officers are being properly advised in when deadly force is authorized, and that they're being trained in how to de-escalate potentially violent confrontations.
Questions over potentially flawed deadly force training emerged after the commission was given copies of the department's training manuals that advised officers they were free to use deadly force whenever they believed their life or the lives of others is in danger.
That subjective standard has no basis in state or federal law, the commission — whose members include lawyers and a retired state Supreme Court justice — concluded. The proper legal standard is objective rather than subjective, requiring evidence supporting the officer's conclusions.
"In weighing the government's interest in the use of force, courts will examine, among other relevant factors, whether the subject posed an immediate threat to officer or public safety, the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest or attempting to escape, and whether law enforcement could have used other methods to accomplish its purpose," the report notes. "The Commission is concerned that these legal rules are not as well understood across the SPD as they need to be."
Authorities have transferred 65-year-old Karl F. Thompson from the Federal Detention Center Sea-Tac in Seattle to a medium security facility in Arizona, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.
Though he's listed as being located at the Federal Correctional Institution in Phoenix, Thompson's release date is listed as unknown. He was sentenced Nov. 15 to four years in prison.
The former Spokane police officer was listed as "in transit" as of Friday last week.
Just as he promised last week after the sentencing, the attorney for convicted Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. filed notice today that he intends to appeal several aspects of the case.
U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle sentenced Thompson last week to 51 months in federal prison for using excessive force and lying to investigators about his confrontation in 2006 with Otto Zehm. The mentally disabled janitor died two days after the struggle in which he suffered 13 baton strikes and several shocks with a Taser.
Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich filed his notice today indicating that Thompson will challenge the decisions by Van Sickle to deny the motion for release pending appeal; his order refusing to dismiss the case; his refusal to order a new trial and several other rulings.
Thompson, 65, remains incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center – Sea Tac in Seattle, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Read previous coverage here.
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 of the state. Sorry, but you won’t find me joining the gripers and grousers who are sore about the ex-cop getting just 51 months for his unwarranted and vicious attack on Otto Zehm six-plus years ago. I’ve been beating this drum too long for that. I remember too well the lonely days when our do-nothing county prosecutor, Steve Tucker, refused to touch this case as if it were radioactive. I remember, too, that the city’s official and shameful position was that Thompson did nothing wrong and that Zehm was to blame. I was just some kook columnist ranting in the paper about a lost cause and giving away 5,000 Otto buttons to keep people from forgetting. Oh, boy, do I remember/Doug Clark, SR. More here.
Originally posted 5:08 p.m. Thursday
Updated: 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 police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. walked away passively in handcuffs. U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle admonished the courtroom in advance that demonstrations of any kind would be inappropriate, and the sentence was greeted with silence by both Thompson and Zehm supporters. Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich lost a last-minute plea to keep the decorated officer out of jail pending appeal of his convictions for using excessive force and lying to investigators to cover up his actions/Thomas Clouse, SR. More here.
Question: Was justice served?
Good morning, Netizens…
Paraphrasing one of those woefully-hackneyed movies you often encounter on various Western TV channels once said, “Yesterday was a good day for a hanging.”
That's because Karl Thompson, AKA Karl the Klubber, was sentenced yesterday for the beating death of Otto Zehm after a prolonged period of attorney-induced waiting. Somehow it always come back to this, that if that were yours truly charged with such an onerous crime, given the deplorable legal resources available to me, I would already be in the federal penitentiary doing hard time for perhaps as much as twenty years. Given the number of aging fat body diseases and maladies I already suffer from, there is reasonable doubt if I would have survived the first year.
However, Karl Thompson hasn't lack for legal representation, no. He's been on the public's dime, thus far, for approximately $500,000 in costs, which may increase dramatically when or if the verdict yesterday goes to appeals court. You and I, as citizens of Spokane, are paying for Karl's legal fees, not to mention the costs of his incarceration pending appeal.
As you probably know, Thompson was sentenced to 4 years three months time. There were no stand-up salutes from Spokane's finest, or police social parties this time around. Thompson has left the court room yesterday in handcuffs in the custody of the U.S. Marshall's Service.
Everyone from the lawyers to the Mayor to the Chief of Police all intoned their respective pieces before the cameras outside the court in the aftermath of Thompson being taken into custody at the end of the sentencing. All promised that the Spokane Police Department had learned their lessons from the death of Otto Zehm, however questions remain in my mind how durable and lasting those lessons will be.
All that I have, as a bystander to history, is the terribly saddening images of how Otto Zehm died, and the manner in which the police standing outside the Zip Trip Store huddled together in the night air, attempting to perfect the story they would later report on the evening news of how things were. Please remember, Karl Thompson wasn't the only person who fabricated the truth that fateful night. He may have been just the scapegoat.
Is this closure we have been promised? Perhaps, but then perhaps not. Of course, your view of matters may differ.
- Otto Zehm
U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby, whose office handled the excessive force prosecution of former Spokane police officer Karl Thompson, took deliberate steps Thursday to praise the trustworthiness of the local police force overall.
"That's not an indictment of our entire police department," Ormsby said just moments after Thompson was ordered to serve more than four years in prison for the fatal 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm. "We have a good police department."
Although Ormsby still supports calls for an in-depth Justice Department probe of the Spokane police department, he noted that several steps have been taken since Thompson's conviction last year to improve the department's accountability.
He said the city's Use of Force Commission has been asked by Mayor David Condon to not only examine the department's past practices but to recommend a "path forward." Ormsby said he believes the commission's recommendations, particularly with a City Hall and police department committed to improvement, could go a long way to helping restore community trust in the police force.
In addition to revelations that Spokane Police detectives were feeding information about the Zehm investigation to Officer Karl F. Thompson, Jr., the grand jury testimony of Detective Jeff Harvey had several other insights into how the Spokane Police handled the case.
Harvey was a vice president of the Spokane Police Guild when he was subpoenaed to testify in March 2009 before the grand jury investigating the March 18, 2006, beating of mentally disabled Otto Zehm, who later died from the incident.
Harvey testified that he spoke with a forensics employee who had spoken to Detective Mark Burbridge, who investigated the Zehm confrontation along with former Detective Terry Ferguson.
Burbridge showed the forensics employee a video of the Zehm confrontation and Burbridge “had drawn the conclusion that it appeared that the officers were following policy and procedure,” Durkin said, reading Harvey’s notes.
Harvey also testified about a call he took on March 18, 2006, from Sgt. Dan Torok, who was one of several officers who responded to Thompson’s call for help in restraining Zehm.
Harvey said Torok “had concerns that detectives were not following our critical incident protocol. They were asking way too many questions of the officers at the time of the incident.”
Harvey said the officers believed they should be given 48 hours before answering questions about the Zehm confrontation.
Torok and other officers indicated that they wanted an attorney at the same time Spokane Police officials were telling the public that Zehm “attacked” and “lunged” at Thompson, who used the least amount of force necessary to subdue Zehm.
Harvey’s notes show that he spoke to Ernie Wuthrich, the current guild president, at about 1 a.m. on the night of the incident.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin asked Harvey about a reference in his notes about setting something up for Tuesday after the Zehm confrontation.
“Tuesday morning we were going to circle the wagons, so to speak, get things together and figure out what’s going on,” Harvey said.
Tuesday would have been three days after the confrontation, which is when Officer Jason Uberuaga told the same grand jury that several officers were called into a room with a union attorney to fill out their incident reports about the Zehm confrontation.
UPDATE: Potluck for Thompson canceled.
Officer John Gately just called Friday afternoon to say that the Nov. 3 event "An Evening with Karl" F. Thompson Jr. has been canceled.
"It was never intended to offend anyone," Gately said. "It's canceled."
HERE'S THE ORIGINAL POST:
Most of the officers who belong to the Spokane Police Guild have been invited to attend “An Evening with Karl” at the home of an officer and her husband, who is also union vice president.
While the Nov. 3 event for former officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. is not union sanctioned, Assistant Chief Scott Stephens said he worries that the event may counter efforts to rebuild trust in the police department following the department’s handling of the investigation of the Otto Zehm confrontation and Thompson's conviction in federal court.
“Our goal is to have behavior consistent with enhancing and rebuilding public trust and confidence in the department,” Stephens said. The scheduled event “could potentially harm that. I would hope that officers would keep that goal in mind in all of their actions.”
Officer Kellee Gately is hosting the event with her husband, Officer John Gately, in their home. She said she obtained approval to hand out the fliers in the inter-departmental mail system. She said Thompson just recently celebrated a birthday, but did not elaborate on the purpose of the event.
Guild president Ernie Wuthrich said no union funds will be used for what he described essentially has a potluck.
“It’s a private deal, even though I believe every (Guild) member was invited,” said Wuthrich, who said he won't attend because of a scheduling conflict.
Asked if he was concerned about community reaction, he said, “I would hope that the community would remember that anybody convicted of a crime still has friends and family and people who care about them and want the best for them. You can’t eliminate the human factor in any of these things.”
The defense attorneys of former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. have blamed a faulty email program for missing the deadline last Friday to file any objections to the pre-sentence report that could become the last major legal battle prior to sentencing.
Thompson was convicted on Nov. 2, 2011, of using excessive force and lying to investigators about his confrontation on March 18, 2006, with Otto Zehm. The original sentencing date of Jan. 27 has been delayed as attorneys continue to argue every aspect of the case.
But on Sept. 21, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle set a deadline of 4 p.m. on Oct. 5 for both sides to file objections to the pre-sentence report.
Federal prosecutors missed the deadline by about four-and-a-half hours, but did file its request Friday night asking that the judge to sentence Thompson to 10 years.
The Spokesman-Review sent an e-mail to Oreskovich at 6:10 p.m. Friday asking whether he would file any arguments. He finally responded at 1:03 a.m. Saturday, writing: “I filed objections many months ago.”
But on Monday, Oreskovich wrote in a pleading, under the penalty of perjury, that his office has been experiencing problems with its Microsoft Outlook program and as a result didn’t receive a notice of the pending deadline.
“During the late-evening hours of Friday … I was checking my email when I came across an email from Spokesman Review reporter Tom Clouse he sent at 6:15 p.m. inquiring whether I would be filing any objection to the Presentence Report,” Oreskovich wrote. “This was the first I was aware that anything was due that day.”
He then asked for a week extension to file those documents.
On Wednesday, Judge Van Sickle ruled that because Oreskovich "demonstrated good cause for the relief requested,” he extended the deadline until noon on Friday.
For nearly a year, former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. has avoided sentencing on his federal convictions for using excessive force in the beating of Otto Zehm and then lying to investigators about it.
But with yesterday's refusal by U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle to throw out the convictions and order a new trial, as Thompson's defense team had urged, the long-delayed sentencing hearing soon will be rescheduled for a new legal clash: what is the appropriate punishment for a decorated police officer who continues to insist he did nothing wrong even though a jury ruled otherwise?
Van Sickle agreed with Thompson's contention that prosecutors failed to turn over favorable information from a forensic videographer to the defense but the judge concluded the omission was so insignificant that it wouldn't have altered the outcome.
Here's a link to SR reporter Chelsea Bannach's article on Van Sickle's ruling. Bannach was filling in for SR reporter Thomas Clouse, who was on vacation when the ruling was issued.
A federal judge has denied the motion for a new trial for convicted former Spokane Police officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. (pictured). Thompson’s lawyer Carl Oreskovich argued on Aug. 31 that Thompson should receive a new trial because federal prosecutors hid information from the defense that could have won his acquittal. Thompson was convicted by a federal jury in Yakima in November of using excessive force and lying to investigators in the violent 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm, a mentally ill janitor mistakenly identified as a possible thief. Zehm died two days after being beaten, tasered and hog-tied by police in a Spokane convenience store/SR. Developing. (SR file photo)
Question: Anyone remember when Thompson was a captain under former sheriff Pierce Clegg?
Buried in the transcripts unsealed last week of the secret jury hearings held by a federal judge in the Karl F. Thompson Jr. case, was an apparent chance encounter between the jury forewoman and the alternate juror.
Jury Forewoman Diane Riley said she was having an electrical problem at her Ellensburg home and called her utility company. That company sent Donald Finn, who was identified during jury selection, as a line worker who was later determined to be the alternate juror.
Finn told the judge he could find nothing wrong at Riley's home and he seemed to suggest that Riley made the call to give her a chance to convince him that the jury made the right call.
“I said, well, my feelings were it’s just, you know, just a big dog and pony show,” the alternate juror said. “The guy passed away at the scene, Karl had to pay for it. And I said that’s kind of the way I saw it.”
Riley said as soon as Finn recognized her, he started inquiriing about the jury's decision to convict Thompson of using excessive force and lying to investigators about his 2006 encounter with Otto Zehm.
“He started asking questions about it, and … he expressed then how he had been agitated and angry that the jury found Mr. Thompson guilty,” Riley said. “He felt the witnesses were fake, paid dog and pony show, and that he didn’t believe anything that any of them said.”
Riley said she told Finn that he was not part of the deliberations and all the discussions the jurors had. She added that she’d learned information from an author about alleged past transgressions by Thompson.
During the May 23 hearing, U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle asked Riley about what the author told her. “Is this relevant?” she asked.
“I’m not trying to trick you. I’m really not. And you’re not in any way on the hot seat,” Van Sickle said. “I’m just trying to gather information, to be honest with you, and this is the right way to do it that I’m aware of.”
New documents released Thursday show that the only person who raised issues about juror misconduct in the trial that convicted former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. was an alternate juror who was not privy to the final deliberations.
U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle called for the secret hearings in May after attorneys learned that the alternate juror told a court security officer that jurors improperly discussed the case prior to deliberations that resulted in the Nov. 2 conviction.
“I thought the government put up a terrible case. Horrible,” said the alternate juror, whose name was redacted. “I thought they got it wrong."
The forewoman of the jury that convicted former Spokane Police officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. of excessive force said in a letter to a federal judge that defense attorneys have twisted her words in their effort to force a new trial for the decorated officer.
The documents are contained in files previously sealed by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle.
Federal prosecutors appear to be growing frustrated with the ongoing delays that have kept convicted Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. out of prison.
Eight months have passed since a jury convicted Thompson of using excessive force and lying to investigators in the 2006 fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm, an unarmed janitor erroneously implicated in a possible theft. But court-ordered delays have postponed sentencing indefinitely as he seeks a new trial.
Good morning, Netizens…
I've been waiting patiently as all the various members of the news media have danced a fandango over the proposed settlement between the City of Spokane and the Otto Zehm family, but I still have not seen anyone with either the honesty or temerity to state on the public record WHO was factually responsible for the mess our current city government finds itself in. Was it, as most seem to assume, a band of renegade police officers and commanders who failed to follow good policies regarding the abuse of authority? Or, was it the shadow land governance of the Police Guild responsible for most of what has gone wrong with the police? There are, in fact, a lot of others in City Hall who by their lack of honesty who could easily be considered at fault, but who are they?
I remember with some clarity the first time I coined the phrase “Queen Mary” referring to our former mayor with a somewhat unprofessional bit of journalistic backhand humor. My insight, at the time, was that Queen Mary wanted so badly to be the “Queen of the Prom” she forgot who it was who voted her into office, all except for a select few of her friends and political allies. Queen Mary loved appearing in the public eye, so long as no one asked her any really “tough” questions. Perhaps that is the primary reason why she was a one-term Mayor after all.
Then there was former Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi, who I believe spent more time abusing citizens of Spokane than he did seeking justice for anyone other than the ruling faction(s) in City Hall, and I, for one, am glad he is no longer part of our City Government.
Include at least two former Mayors, a handful of City Council members, including Joe Shogun, a handful of lower-level administrators, lawyers and other luminaries and you just about have the picture. I had very little reason to trust any of these people. They tried unsuccessfully to make Otto Zehm appear guilty. They lied.
As in any case where the powers and authorities of the city government are involved, regardless how messy they might be, the underlying question that always seems to remain is just when can I start trusting our city government? Some members of the news media are right: this isn't about the money. They have six long years of deception to make right.
- Otto Zehm