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Otto Zehm

Summary

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.

Thompson ultimately was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison, although he promptly filed his plan to appeal. Thompson was transferred to a federal detention center in Seattle.

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.

Public outcry over Zehm’s death and others prompted outside review of the Police Department, changes to protocol and the creation of a police ombudsman position. The latter has drawn criticism.

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

Latest updates in this topic

Thompson sentencing delayed again

U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle agreed to another delay Friday in the sentencing of former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.

Van Sickle agreed to a request by attorney Dutch Wetzel who is representing video forensic expert Grant Fredericks, who caused the delay when he contacted the judge to allege that federal prosecutors mischaracterized his expected testimony in the trial last fall in which Thompson was convicted of using excessive force and lying to investigators about his confrontation with Otto Zehm.

Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich has claimed prosecutorial misconduct because he says Fredericks’ unused testimony could have helped defend Thompson. Federal prosecutors have argued that Fredericks’ claims are baseless and he has offered misleading testimony in other cases.

Van Sickle instructed Wetzel to prepare a summary of any materials Fredericks might have that would help him decide. Van Sickle scheduled another status conference for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to get an update on Wetzel’s progress.


  

Are we finally accountable?

Good morning, Netizens…

 

Interim Spokane Police Chief Scott Stevens publicly acknowledged yesterday that the Spokane Police Department made troubling mistakes while investigating the 2006 confrontation that resulted in the death of Otto Zehm.

 

Stephens went on to state that he disagrees with Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez, who called the department’s Zehm investigation an “extensive cover-up” and “violent abuse of power.” Stephens promises an open, candid discussion with the community about what went wrong as well as what went right in the case once the Zehm family’s civil lawsuit against the city is settled.

 

“I think it’s important … so the public has confidence in what we are doing,” the interim chief said. “I’m more than happy to share what those lessons were and what changes were made when it is appropriate. My desired outcome is that we restore the public trust and confidence in their department.”

 

Restore public trust and confidence in the Spokane Police Department?

 

It's been six years since the death of Otto Zehm. How many more years do the citizens of Spokane have to wait for the high-ranking SPD to tell all of the truth all the time? How much longer do we have to wait for that liar Rocky Treppiedi to leave public office for good?

 

I've been harping about the death of Otto Zehm since his murder took place in 2006, to such a degree that I wonder how much longer we have to scream at the top of our lungs to obtain our rights?

 

Dave

Feds dispute Zehm trial defense claims

The forensic videographer whose allegations of prosecutorial misconduct have indefinitely stalled the sentencing of former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. is depicted in new court documents as an attention-seeking police apologist who lied to federal investigators.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed filed scores of pages Friday detailing the pre-trial and post-trial dealings with forensic video expert Grant Fredericks, who approached U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle with concerns only after a jury convicted Thompson in November of using excessive force and lying to investigators to cover-up the 2006 fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

DC: Justice For Otto Zehm At Hand

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, I hadn’t come here on a speed run. After scanning the aisles a moment, I grabbed what I had come for. Then I took my place at the end of the checkout line with goods in tow: One 2-liter plastic bottle of Diet Pepsi. Check. One Snickers candy bar. Check. Hardly the breakfast of champions. But it seemed like the right way to mark the sixth anniversary of Otto Zehm’s final and ultimately fatal visit to this small Spokane trading post at 1712 N. Division. March 18, 2006. Never forget/Doug Clark, SR. More here. (SR photo: Snickers candy bars, flowers and 2-liter bottles of Pepsi Cola were left curbside in November in front of the Zip Trip on Division Street at Augusta Avenue)

Question: How closely have you followed the Otto Zehm story?

Use of force panel holds 1st meeting

The interim Spokane police chief and a Gonzaga University Law School professor were among the presenters Wednesday at the first meeting of Spokane's commission on police use of force.

Jason Gillmer, civil liberties expert, described the need for officers to be held to an “objective standard” regarding conduct instead of relying only on what the individual officer perceived at the time.

“This objective standard does not mean that an officer cannot make a mistake, but the mistake must be one that a reasonable officer could have made,” Gillmer said.

Interim Police Chief Scott Stephens described the department's mission and goals and answered questions about training

The meeting began with a  moment of silence for Otto Zehm, who died in 2006 after an encounter with Spokane police officers. It ended with comments from citizens, including the family of James Rogers, who was shot to death by police last September amid reports that he was armed and suicidal.

The commission, which was formed by Mayor David Condon, plans to finish reviewing Spokane Police Department policies by June.

Past coverage:

Jan. 25: Ex-chief justice joins use of force panel

Judge grants Thompson interview request

A federal judge Friday granted a request by the attorney for former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to interview a government expert witness who claims that federal prosecutors mischaracterized his expected testimony.

The move further delays the sentencing of Thompson, who was convicted Nov. 3 of using excessive force and lying to cover up his actions during the March 18, 2006, confrontation with Otto Zehm, who died two days later.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

A look at Spokane police use of force

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 janitor Otto Zehm was indefensible, the department’s own instructors and the city’s legal advisers have insisted that Spokane police officers were justified and handled the encounter appropriately.

 Here is how Spokane police Officer Terry Preuninger, a department training instructor (pictured), defended Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.’s decision to beat and shock the retreating Zehm: “If the officer believes that they were in danger, then that use of force would be authorized,” Preuninger told a federal jury in October, adding that there doesn’t have to be a “factual basis” for the officer’s fear of harm.

Read the rest of the story here.

Also check out this profile on new interim police chief Scott Stephens.

Jury convicts man of threatening officer

A jury has convicted a Spokane man of felony harassment for threatening to kill a Spokane police officer.

Rudy Ray Cordova, 38, was acquitted of fourth-degree domestic assault, which is the suspected crime that brought him in contact with Officer Chris McMurtrey.

Cordova's lawyer, Doug Phelps, questioned McMurtrey at trial about his support for Officer Karl Thompson and pointed out that McMurtrey said he feared Cordova in part because of his felony convictions. Phelps emphasized that Thompson was a convicted felon, too, but McMurtrey didn't fear him.

It apparently didn't sway jurors, who returned the guilty verdict on Thursday. Cordova is now awaiting sentencing on the felony harassment charge.

McMurtrey had arrested Cordova on suspicion of domestic violence assault Feb. 26 when Cordova told him, “That’s how people died, by taking the wrong people to jail…Don’t worry. I’ll get out tomorrow and find out where you guys live. I’ve been to prison,” according to court testimony.

Cop questioned over Thompson support

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 page in support of another convicted felon – former Officer Karl Thompson.

 Defense lawyer Doug Phelps questioned Officer Chris McMurtrey’s contention that 38-year-old Rudy Ray Cordova’s prior convictions for violent crimes were a cause for concern, noting that Thompson has been convicted of a violent crime, too.

Read the rest of my story here.

DC: Thompson’s Hail Mary Defense

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 afterward to cover his slimy hide. Or so the Thompson shysters claim. Gee, Karl. Too bad you didn’t have this “come to Jesus” moment a few years back. Could’ve saved the public all the expense and bother of holding a federal trial. You know, the one in Yakima last fall that found you GUILTY as hell. This is just another Hail Mary ploy by the defense, of course. The goal this time is to get Thompson a discount on the already woefully thin amount of prison time he has coming/Doug Clark, SR. More here.

Question: You be the judge. What would you do with this latest attempt by Karl Thompson's defense team to win a new trial in the fatal beating of Otto Zehm?

Is this a harmless coincidence?

Good morning, Netizens…

 

Is this a coincidence or not?

 

I've never met Tom Clouse, a reporter for the Spokesman-Review, although if I did manage to meet him, I'd thank him for the good job he did covering the Otto Zehm trial in far-off Yakima, maybe even take him out for coffee. He led the Spokesman’s coverage of Otto Zehm’s death at the hands of Spokane police and the subsequent trial and conviction of Officer Karl F. Thompson.

 

While he was covering the trial in Yakima, somebody stole his big Ford F-250 from his driveway, and looted his entire house, from top to bottom. All kinds of stuff missing: a World War II sidearm, his late wife's jewelry, Bic lighters and perhaps more. According to the Inlander story, one of the ostensible burglars even gnawed on a piece of purloined cheese from the kitchen and left the remnants on the crime scene. As you can perhaps tell, we really have high-class health-conscious burglars here in Spokane.

 

To his credit, Clouse did attempt to get the Spokane Police to take evidence from the crime scene for DNA testing, but police, even the FBI, refused. According to the Inlander story, they haven't even gotten around to sending the fingerprints out for testing. I'd be steamed if I was the victim.

 

The $42,000 in losses at Clouse's house were all covered by insurance. That won't bring back all of his late wife's jewelry, her mother’s jewelry and grandmother’s jewelry, including the wedding rings. There was already a big hole in Clouse's life because he recently observed the second anniversary of his late wife's death. Of course if you are a crook, you hit a man when he's down, before he can stand up and face you.

 

But the Clouse burglary is only one of what I think is more than a coincidence.

 

Burglars also ostensibly hit Attorney Breean Beggs, who has represented the Otto Zehm family since 2009, as was civil attorney Jeffry Finer.

 

None of the usual talking heads, including Mayor David Condon, will meaningfully comment on the likelihood that these crimes against three people who have worked exhaustively on the Otto Zehm case, could possibly be retribution.

 

Is this a coincidence? It certainly doesn't seem that way, does it? Of course, your results may differ. Portions of this story were excerpted all or in part from The Inlander.

 

Dave

Ex-justice to serve on Zehm committee

Gerry Alexander, who retired last year as the chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court, will serve on the city's Use of Force Commission.

The commission was created last year by former Mayor Mary Verner to review the city's handling of the police confrontation that resulted in the death of Otto Zehm in 2006.

Read more at the Spin Control blog. 

Thompson seeks sentence reduction

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 responsibility for using excessive force on Otto Zehm and lying to cover it up.

 Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin has responded to an earlier request filed by defense attorney Carl Oreskovich to reduce Thompson’s sentencing guidelines, which currently call for him to serve between 27 and 33 months in federal prison. Oreskovich has argued that the decorated former officer has accepted responsibility for the crimes.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Retired chief justice will serve on Zehm overview committee

Gerry Alexander, who retired last year as the chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court, will serve on the city's Use of Force Commission.

The commission was created last year by former Mayor Mary Verner to review the city's handling of the police confrontation that resulted in the death of Otto Zehm in 2006. Mayor David Condon endorsed the concept and supported her choice of former Gonzaga Law School Dean Earl Martin to lead it.

Membership of the five-member committee was announced at a City Council meeting on Monday by Council President Ben Stuckart. The council is set to confirm the membership next week.

The vice chairman will be former attorney Bill Hyslop, who served as the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

The other two members will be Ivan Bush, the Spokane Public Schools' equal opportunity officer; and Susan Hammond, director of outpatient and psychiatric services for Spokane Mental Health.

Condon has said he hopes the commission concluds its review by June.

Thompson Seeks Sentence Reduction

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 responsibility for using excessive force on Otto Zehm and lying to cover it up. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin has responded to an earlier request filed by defense attorney Carl Oreskovich to reduce Thompson’s sentencing guidelines, which currently call for him to serve between 27 and 33 months in federal prison. Oreskovich has argued that the decorated former officer has accepted responsibility for the crimes/Thomas Clouse, SR. More here.

Question: Do you think that former Kootenai County sheriff's captain Karl Thompson took responsibility for his actions in Otto Zehm's death?

Judge: Steve Tucker recall won’t proceed

A recall petition against Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Tucker was dismissed this afternoon by a visiting Superior Court judge.

 Judge Craig Matheson of Benton and Franklin counties said that four recall charges drafted by Shannon Sullivan were insufficient and that one of the four lacked a basis of knowledge.

“I’m very relieved,” Tucker said after the hearing.

Read the rest of the story here.

Thompson’s motion to acquit denied

A federal judge Monday again ruled that government prosecutors provided enough evidence to allow a jury to convict former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. of using excessive force on Otto Zehm.

As he did during the four-week trial in Yakima, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle denied a motion brought by defense attorneys who argued that federal prosecutors did not provide evidence showing that Thompson acted willfully or with a bad purpose when he beat Zehm with a baton and shocked him with a Taser.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

Dec. 16: Zehm civil suit settlment elusive

Tucker disputes recall effort’s claims

Prosecutor Steve Tucker said Tuesday that he sees nothing in a petition to recall him except “rumors and hearsay, and ‘facts’ that are not true.”

 The petition for a recall election was organized by Shannon Sullivan, who led the successful recall drive against Spokane Mayor Jim West in 2005.

Read the rest of John Craig's story here.

Past coverage:

Dec. 1: Recall effort targets Prosecutor Steve Tucker

Judge denies request to talk to jurors

A judge has denied a request by former Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson’s attorney’s to interview the jurors who convicted him last month of two felonies in connection with the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.

U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle said in a 10-page order filed Tuesday that no evidence exists to support the request, which lawyers Carl Oreskovich and Courtney Garcea said was essential to their preparations for a request for a new trial.

“The Court repeatedly instructed jurors to ignore media accounts of the trial,” Van Sickle wrote. “Thus, to the extent jurors were exposed to such accounts, the Court is satisfied they ignored them.”

Read the rest of my story here.

City Council rebukes Thompson salute

Police officers who saluted Officer Karl F. Thompson in a federal courtroom earlier this month have received more official criticism.

The Spokane City Council on Monday voted unanimously to denounce the “courtroom behavior” of the nearly 50 officers who honored Thompson as he was led out of a hearing on his way to jail after being found guilty of two felony charges related to the police confrontation with Otto Zehm, a Spokane man who died as a result of injuries he suffered in the confrontation in 2006.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, Mayor-elect David Condon and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich have also denounced the officers’ salute, which was done in the presence of Zehm family members.

The nonbinding resolution, which was sponsored by Councilman Jon Snyder, also voiced support for the creation of a citizens’ panel, led by a former Gonzaga Law School dean, to examine the city’s handling of the legal matters associated with the case and Verner’s request to the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Police Department’s policies and procedures.