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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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.”
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.
It’s hard to imagine how Mayor Mary Verner could have lost so much ground between the primary and the November election without concerns about the Otto Zehm case eating at her base.
With some members of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane expressing the possibility of sitting out the election or even casting a vote for a Republican who served a conservative member of Congress, it became clear that Verner had a problem, a problem that became more pronounced when Tom Keefe, a former Spokane County Democratic Party chair endorsed now Mayor-elect David Condon.
There were two key questions that Verner would not answer, at least completely, for most of the campaign:
- Why did the city file a response to the lawsuit from Otto Zehm’s family indicating that officers followed proper police policies when they confronted Otto Zehm, who died from injuries he suffered in that confrontation, even though the man who led the department at the time of the confrontation, Assistant Chief Jim Nicks, felt differently?
- Was she informed about the request by Department of Justice officials to meet regarding their concerns about the behavior of the city attorney’s office?
After the now infamous “FAQ” news conference that was overshadowed by Councilman Bob Apple, Verner had what may have been her worst few weeks as mayor, including a ‘60-Minutes’-style, chase-down-the-sidewalk-while-the-politician-refuses-to-answer-questions segment that ran on KREM-TV, fresh with a moment when she put a hand over the camera complaining of the bright camera light.
Karl Thompson's lawyers say jury forewoman Diane Riley's statements to media this week are further evidence of the need to examine whether outside information was considered in deliberations.
Riley told The Spokesman-Review no jurors considered information not presented at trial when the convicted Thompson of excessive force and lying to investigators, but she also said a juror knew someone who lived in Spokane and that politics here are corrupt and dirty."
"The fact that the allegedly 'corrupt' or 'dirty' politics of Spokane was discussed during jury deliberations is particularly alarming given the fact that the jury made its determination regarding Defendant Thompson's guilt based upon its belief that 'everybody felt 100 percent that this was a police cover-up," lawyer Courtney Garcea wrote in a declaration filed today. "Whether there was or was not a police cover-up was not an issue to ever be considered by the jury."
Garcea points to Riley's comment that "most of us had never heard of this case" as acknowledging that outside information such as Zehm's mental illness or his purported innocence could have been considered.
She also points to statements Riley made to KREM 2 news that jurors suspected Otto Zehm may have been disabled by looking at photos of him as a sign that jurors improperly considered that information when reaching the verdict.
She also points to Riley's statement that Zehm was taken from this Earth "because of the mistake and bad judgment of another man."
In order to convict Thompson of using excessive force, jurors had to find that he acted with bad or evil intent. Garcea says Riley's statement shows the jury erred in convicting Thompson, and that they inaccurately believed Thompson caused Zehm's death.
Judge Fred Van Sickle has not yet ruled on the request by defense attorneys that jurors be questioned about their deliberations.
Also this week, Thompson's lawyers filed a motion for him to be acquitted, saying the government failed to prove its case.
The written motion, which seeks a hearing on Dec. 19, is essentially the same motion attorney Carl Oreskovich unsuccessful argued during the four-week trial in Yakima.
Thompson faces several years in prison at his sentencing scheduled for Jan. 27.
Spokane police Officer Tim Moses has resigned as a public information officer at the advice of his lawyer.
Moses, who told jurors at Karl Thompson's trial that the FBI intimidated him into giving false incriminating testimony to a grand jury, has been "under a lot of fire" lately, said lawyer Chris Bugbee.
"I'd like to see him keep his head down," Bugbee said. "There's a lot going on right now and I don't think that he needs to be the one that's making official statements for either the police department or the Guild right now."
Moses, well known by media for his jovial attitude and sense of humor, will remain one of two Guild vice presidents, Bugbee said. He will continue to work as a patrol officer.
"I think he's a great officer," Bugbee said.
Bugbee said he suggested the resignation to Moses on Tuesday after he was quoted in a Spokesman-Review story about Mayor Mary Verner requesting the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the police department.
"I think he realizes the public at this point is looking closely at all of the officers that were involved so he'd like to stand back a little bit and let somebody else take that responsibility," Bugbee said. "The public has strong opinions about him."
Bugbee said Moses is not the subject of a grand jury investigation.
The forewoman of the jury that convicted Thompson told The Spokesman-Review this week that Moses' testimony was pivotal in convincing them the case was a vast police cover-up. Bugbee talked with Moses about resigning as PIO before the article was published.
Moses was given a letter of immunity before testifying at Thompson's trial. He said he gave false statements to the grand jury regarding Thompson saying he hit Otto Zehm in the head and neck with a police baton - which would constitute unlawful lethal force - because the FBI intimidated him.
Thompson's lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, told jurors that the FBI had Moses wrapped around an axle. Bugbee said Moses never meant to mislead anyone.
"I know Tim just got himself in a corner, and he's getting some public criticism over it," Bugbee said.
Moses has long criticized media coverage of the Thompson case, but Bugbee said today that his resignation for a position dedicated to dealing with the media is not fueled by anger.
"He and I discussed it and he was leaning toward continuing to do it, but I pointed out that maybe, out of respect for some of these strong perceptions in the public right now, maybe it would be the best thing to give it up for a while," Bugbee said. "And that really was a driving reason."
"I think he appreciates that the public does have strong feelings, and maybe now he's just become a little too well known in reference to these recent events and it's time to step back," Bugbee continued.
The forewoman of the jury that convicted Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. said none of the jurors brought information to deliberations that they picked up from media reports, as alleged by defense attorneys seeking a new trial.
Diane Riley, 57, of Ellensburg, contacted The Spokesman-Review Monday to voice her concerns about allegations that jurors may have been exposed to television reports indicating Otto Zehm was mentally ill.
"I was presiding over this group of people. I could tell that none of them were being fed information from the outside,” she said.
Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson outside the federal courthouse in Yakima on Nov. 2 with (from left) his lawyer, Carl Oreskvocih, and Spokane Police Guild Vice President John Gately. (SRPhoto/Chris Anderson)
Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick suggested Monday that no cultural changes will occur within SPD until frontline officers change the leadership of the guild.
As president, Ernie Wuthrich keeps two vice presidents, Officer John Gately, who attended every day of Karl Thompson’s trial and was by his side outside of trial, and Tim Moses, who required a letter of immunity from the U.S. Department of Justice before he would testify about his previous grand jury testimony incriminating Thompson.
When Moses (pictured right) did testify, he he blamed the FBI for intimidating him into testifying under oath to a grand jury that Thompson had struck Otto Zehm in the head with a baton.
“If you want true culture change, you look to your leaders and see who is being elected,” Kirkpatrick said. “That will be your weather vane of the cultural mindset. The silent majority needs to stand up and take back the voice and leadership of who they really are.”
But in an e-mail to The Spokesman-Review, Moses said he recalls Kirkpatrick supporting his promotion.
If “you really want to find someone to point the finger at for a lack of direction … deficiency of faith in the police … or issues with public trust … remember, we were under Kirkpatrick's administration and guidance the past 5 years,” he wrote in part. “Put the blame where it belongs.”
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 court with an investigation into Thompson or other officers involved in the 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm.
Tucker avoided questions for more than a week. His only response to multiple calls and office visits was an email on Friday asking about the “specific case” reporters were inquiring about. He then didn’t respond by 5 p.m. Friday to a list of emailed questions.
Mayor Mary Verner's interview last night with Mike Fitzsimmons on KXLY 920 AM has been making the rounds on Twitter today. And it's worth a listen.
Here's some of what was said. The entire interview is in the link above.
Verner: …I do know that on your radio show you’ve helped perpetuate a lot of misinformation so I’ve been up against a series of unfolding events and a very negative misinformation campaign and I still have a lot of support in this community. So I’m really looking forward to the rest of the ballots coming in.
Fitzsimmons: You sound quite bitter.
Verner: Mike I’ve been on your show quite a few times, and I’ve also listened to some of the things that you have perpetuated on your show. I’m sorry if it comes across as bitter. I’m very disappointed in you.
Fitzsimmons: Well, we’re disappointed in you as well, which is maybe why you’re losing tonight.
Verner: Well, that’s certainly your opinion and you’ve certainly had lots of airtime to express it. ….
(The two argue about how often the mayor has accepted invitations to appear on the show.)
Fitzsimmons: I don’t want to get into it. You’re the one who brought the issue up to begin with. Perhaps you might want to look at water rates, you might want to look at the whole Otto Zehm thing if you’re really looking for the reason why you’re trailing right now.
Verner: Well, I have looked into that and those are exactly a couple of the issues that you’ve kind of put on the block that don’t have a lot of substance to them. But I’m still very pleased with the support that I have ….
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 loose pants. Big black letters on the back read: BONNER COUNTY. On his bare feet were cheap plastic sandals. Gray scruff stood out on his chin, and his usually neat white hair was very slightly disheveled. His hands – the hands that had placed countless criminal suspects into cuffs over his career as a cop – were locked behind his back. He looked smaller, sadder, diminished. “I wasn’t prepared for that,” said one of his supporters. Neither was I. Nor was I prepared to look at Thompson and feel what I felt: sympathy. It’s a sympathy tempered by anger at what he did to Otto Zehm and the city’s long string of mistakes in the case/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here. (SR file photo by Colin Mulvany)
Question: Do you have sympathy for 64YO Karl Thompson and what he's facing — 6-10 years in prison for his actions in the death of Otto Zehm?
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 after a defense attorney raised allegations of juror misconduct. U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle reversed a Friday decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hutton, who ordered Thompson detained until sentencing, which has been set for Jan. 27 at 9 a.m. In ruling for Thompson, Van Sickle went against a prior ruling made against officers convicted in the 1992 beating of Rodney King that they were not above the law that requires they remain in jail prior to sentencing except in “exceptional” cases/Thomas Clouse, SR. More here.
Question: Do you agree with the judge's decision to release Thompson until his sentencing Jan. 27?
An investigator with the U.S. Attorney's Office contacted Northwest Cable News last week to find out what five jurors could have seen if they were exposed to coverage of the Karl Thompson-Otto Zehm trial during breakfast at their Yakima hotel.
The news channel says the tickers than ran the morning of Nov. 2 read: “A federal grand jury in Yakima will continue deliberations Wednesday in the trial of a Spokane police officer. Officer Karl Thompson is accused of using excessive force against a suspect who died. If convicted of violating civil rights and lying to investigators, Thompson could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison," according to court documents filed today.
Thompson's lawyers cited the possible exposure to news coverage as a reason for a new trial. They haven't filed a motion for a new trial yet, but they've asked U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle to allow jurors to be questioned regarding the topic. A hearing on that request is set for tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. Get minute-by-minute updates from court here.
Today in court, Carl Oreskovich said the "cumulative" nature of testimony about Zehm's habits as a Zip Trip customer and the paycheck in his pocket could be another fact in the request for a new trial.
Meanwhile, Thompson is to be released from the Bonner County Jail, where he spent the weekend. Read more here.
On the heels of a Spokane police officer yelling "PRESENT ARMS" as law enforcement Karl Thompson left court with U.S. Marshals Friday, a federal judge warned that such outbursts won't be tolerated.
"At best, such conduct will cause exclusion from the courtroom, not to return. At worst, we'll be talking about contempt of court," said U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle before hearing a motion by Thompson's lawyer to get him out of jail pending sentencing.
Van Sickle is deciding now whether to release Thompson from custody. Thompson, now a convicted felon, spent the weekend at the Bonner County Jail and is wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit in court. He's entered and exited in handcuffs. Track the hearing here. A decision is expected shortly.
Van Sickle said he knows "there's a lot of hard feelings and strong feelings about (the Thompson case) way or the other" but emphasized d that such demonstration are not allowed in U.S. District Court.
Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner apologized for the salute on Friday. Later that day, Major Craig Meidl, who attended Friday's hearing, said on the "We Support Karl Thompson" Facebook page that the officer who yelled "Present arms" "was mortified to learn that members of the Zehm family were still in the courtroom."
"The show of respect was not about the incident involving Mr Zehm. The show of respect was for the officer that we all knew and were friends with. It was for the officer that was highly respected and looked up to by so many officers," Meidl wrote. "The officers on our department are hurting. We hear all the bad things being said about us and each one causes a little more bleeding. We are trying to heal. We want to heal. We want to do the best we can for our community because it’s the right thing to do. We would never do anything intentionally to hurt this community or members of this community and I am saddened that there are people that feel that way. "
Jeffry Finer, lawyer for Zehm's family, said on Friday that he is saddened to think that the officers who cried for Thompson Friday likely have not cried for Zehm.
Snickers candy bars, flowers and 2 liter bottles of Pepsi Cola are left curb-side Friday in front of the Zip Trip, on Division at Augusta, where Otto Zehm was beaten unconscious by Spokane police officers, in March 2006, who thought Zehm was a robbery suspect. Zehm died 2 days later. (SR photo: Dan Pelle)
This afternoon, Karl Thompson's lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, filed an emergency motion to get Thompson out of jail. He also filed a motion asking that he be allowed to contact jurors because of what he said was “an unsolicited email received by defense counsel from one of the alternate jurors.” “The alternate juror’s email expressed “shock” at the verdict and stated that (the alternate juror) did not have the same opinion regarding the verdict,” Oreskovich wrote. Oreskovich is asking that he be able to ask jurors about potential infuences on their verdict. He included a declaration by his paralegal, Jodi Dineen, stating she'd seen at least two jurors exposed to a ticker on Northwest Cable News TV that mentioned of the “beating death of a mentally ill janitor” on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 during breakfast at the hotel in Yakima. (Why she didn't tell the court at the time is unclear)/Meghann Cuniff, SR. More here.
- Also: Thompson supporters express outrage/Meghann Cuniff, SR
Question: Do you think Thompson's lawyer will get a new trial for him?
This afternoon, Karl Thompson's lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, filed an emergency motion to get Thompson out of jail. He also filed a motion asking that he be allowed to contact jurors because of what he said was "an unsolicited email received by defense counsel from one of the alternate jurors."
"The alternate juror’s email expressed “shock” at the verdict and stated that (the alternate juror) did not have the same opinion regarding the verdict," Oreskovich wrote. Oreskovich is asking that he be able to ask jurors about potential infuences on their verdict.
He included a declaration by his paralegal, Jodi Dineen, stating she'd seen at least two jurors exposed to a ticker on Northwest Cable News TV that mentioned of the "beating death of a mentally ill janitor" on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 during breakfast at the hotel in Yakima. (Why she didn't tell the court at the time is unclear.)
Oreskovich also cited problems in the testimony of a Zip Trip employee who told jurors Zehm regularly bought 2-liter bottles of soda as a reason his to-be-filed motion for a new trial is likely to succeed.
Oreskovich also said Thompson's conviction is so egregious he shouldn't be incarcerated.
"This Court, having presided over every pretrial hearing and throughout the course of trial, knows that Karl Thompson’s conviction is an aberration," he wrote. "There is absolutely no proof (as none was offered at trial) of any violent behavior in Karl Thompson’s past. This factor weighs heavily in favor of releasing Karl Thompson pending sentencing and defense counsel asks the Court to give this factor proper consideration."
A hearing is set for Monday before U.S. Judge Fred Van Sickle.
Snickers candy bars, flowers and 2-liter bottles of Pepsi were left curbside today in front of the Zip Trip on Division at Augusta, where Otto Zehm lost consciousness during a March 2006 confrontation wth Spokane police officers, He died two days later. (SRPhoto/Dan Pelle)
The Spokane Police Department rank-and-file is reeling amidst the conviction and subsequent jailing of Officer Karl Thompson.
Dozens of officers attended a standing-room only hearing at the federal courthouse today in Spokane, where Thompson was taken into custody after U.S. Magistrate James Hutton ordered his immediate detention.
As Thompson, now a convicted felon, walked unhandcuffed out of the courtroom with U.S. Marshals, a supporter yelled "PRESENT ARMS!" and officers saluted. Several supporters sobbed. None wished to speak to media. Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Mayor Mary Verner later apologized for the outburst.
Jeffry Finer, attorney for Zehm's family, called the response "really unusual and very sad."
"I am shocked the the willingness to ignore the fact that 12 jurors from another community found that what Officer Thompson did was a criminal act," Finer said.
This afternoon, Thompson's lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, filed an emergency motion to get Thompson out of jail.
Administrators of the "We Support Karl Thompson" Facebook page have been busy scrubbing critical comments from the page while expressing their support for a man who is a mentor to many in the department.
Thompson, who was drafted by his coworkers to be police chief in January 2006, worked patrol for more than three years after the fatal March 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm. After he was indicted by a grand jury in October 2009, he was given an administrative desk job that includes working with training bulletins and worked up until his trial began.
He's now in federal custody, but not in Spokane County, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich confirmed. Prosecutors are said to be seeking an 8- to 10-year prison sentence.(Thompson is pictured outside his trial in Yakima earlier this month.)
Supporters of Thompson have taken to Facebook to express their outrage.
The page's creator, Spokane police Sgt. Kevin King, wrote that he was "stunned, angered and sickened by this week's events.
"I am struggling with how to go to work tonight. People are so naive about what police officers really have to encounter every day on the job," King wrote. "The ironic part is that we put our lives at risk day in and day out so others can go about their normal lives with this naivety."
King said he's suffered broken bones, two surgeries and scarring all over his body while a police officer.
"I’ve lost track how many times the thought ”this is it’” went through my head," he wrote.
"Karl is a better cop and a better man than me. If this can happen to him, then it can happen to me. I’ve always felt supported by our community. I no longer feel that," King continued. "I’ll be at work tonight with my brothers and sisters. We will support each other while we are threatened, spit upon, assaulted, and put our lives on the line- for you. My heart is with you, Karl."
A reader emailed The Spokesman-Review to express concern that her comment saying "that a probably good cop crossed the line and became Judge, Jury and Executioner" on the page had been removed.
Supporters say the page is not intended to be a forum to debate the case, only to show Thompson support.
The page has jumped from about 500 supporters to nearly 600 in less than a day. When it had 525 fans, a critic posted a since-deleted comment that read "525 Fascists "LIKE" this! What ever."
Some four dozen Spokane Police officers and other supporters stood when someone yelled “Present Arms” and saluted Thompson as he was led away by U.S. Marshals without being handcuffed. As the crowd saluted in unison, attorney Jeffry Finer turned and apologized to the family of Otto Zehm, who died after a violent confrontation with Thompson and other officers in a North Spokane convenience store in 2006. Finer is representing Zehm’s family in a companion civil suit. Thomas Clouse story here.
Question: What do you make of this show of support from Spokane officers as Karl Thompson was being led away?
A federal judge in Yakima ordered Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. taken into custody this morning following his conviction on charges of using excessive force and lying to investigators. Some three dozen Spokane Police officers and other supporters stood when someone yeled “Present Arms” and saluted Thompson as he was led away, without being handcuffed, after being convicted of using excessive force on Otto Zehm and later lying to cover up his actions. As the crowd saluted in unison, Jeffry Finer turned and apologized to Zehm’s family, whom Finer is representing in a companion civil suit. “The salute was meant to be respectful,” Finer said. “But it seemed to be given with no thought of the victim’s family seated inches away”/Thomas Clouse, SR. More here. (Dan Pelle SR file photo — of Karl Thompson)
- Editorial: Zehm case shows need for reform, credibility/Spokesman-Review
Question: Should Karl Thompson have been taken into custody so soon after the verdict?
Could a broader federal probe of the Spokane Police Department be under way?
Although U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby joined other community leaders Wednesday in cautioning against drawing too many conclusions from the excessive force conviction of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., indications are growing that federal authorites are troubled by what they found here.
The U.S. Justice Department, on its homepage today, openly describes the case against Thompson as involving "an extensive cover up" following the fatal March 18, 2006 confrontation. In its news release announcing Thompson's conviction on charges of using excessive force in the beating of unarmed janitor Otto Zehm and lying about it to investigators, the agency noted that, "Thompson claimed the beating was justified because he felt threatened by a plastic bottle of soda the victim was holding."
Federal authorities confirm that at least one additional Spokane police officer - Sandy McIntyre - has received a target letter stemming from the Zehm fatality. Target letters indicate evidence is being presented to a grand jury that could lead to indictment against the recipients.
Additionally, Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said Wednesday that potential internal investigations against other officers over their handling of the Zehm tragedy won't be considered until federal authorities have notified her that their investigations are done, which hasn't happened yet.
Spokane police officer Karl Thompson, right, waits to cross the street after leaving the William O. Douglas Federal Courthouse in Yakima, Wash. Wednesday. A federal court jury on Wednesday convicted Thompson of using excessive force on a mentally ill man who died in 2006 after being struck and Tasered at a convenience store. Story here. (AP Photo/The Spokesman-Review, Christopher Anderson)
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