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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It takes a lot to get to a guy like me. Many journalists hide behind a shield of cynicism, and I’ve had 37 years of practice. But I’ll admit it. I choked up Wednesday afternoon when my Mom called to relay the bombshell she’d just heard on TV. The jurors I had watched so intently the other day during my visit to a Yakima federal courtroom had delivered a courageous verdict. They convicted Karl Thompson, the Spokane thug cop who beat Otto Zehm like a dog five years ago in a North Division convenience store. They found Thompson guilty for all those cruel, unwarranted baton strikes and Taser shocks that robbed the mentally ill man of his dignity and ultimately his life. And guilty for all the lies Thompson told afterward to cover his sorry ass/Doug Clark, SR. More here.
Question: Were you surprised by the guilty verdicts in the Karl Thompson case?
Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson leaves the William O. Douglas Federal Courthouse in Yakima today after a jury convicted him of two felonies related to the death of Otto Zehm. (SRPhoto/Christopher Anderson)
Breean Beggs, attorney for Otto Zehm's family, said Zehm's mother, Ann, is relieved 'that it's over, and, in her words, the court and legal system saw through what really happened.”
“Otto had a huge impact on the people around him, and they wanted to make sure he's not forgotten, and he is not,” Beggs said. He said Ann Zehm, whose cousin observed the trial for her, ate a piece of birthday cake for Otto on Monday, which would have been his 42nd birthday.
Zehm's family is not concerned with Karl Thompson's punishment, Beggs said.
“I spoke with Ann today and she said she needed a day to get her thoughts together of what she really thought, but all along she has not spoken as far as punishment really jut about accountability and change,” Beggs said.
“This started out, unfortunately as kind of a regular case because people with mental illness die often in Spokane when they interact with law enforcement, but it's turned into…because he was innocent and there was a video…a symbol for what could be changed and what could be better,” Beggs said.
Beggs said Zehm “was just an upstanding person” who was not as vulnerable to the typical character attacks police use to justify “these types of deaths.”
“We continue to call to the city and the department to repudiate any type of policy that would result in this type of death, and when they do so the community can heal.”
Beggs said he expects negotiations in the civil suit to move forward.
He said he was not surprised jurors convicted Thompson.
“I woke up this morning and i had a sense that this was going to happen,” Beggs said.
After a press conference in the U.S. Courthouse in Spokane, Otto Zehm's family members, Dale Zehm, center, with his wife, Sandy, thank U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby, far left, following the jury's conviction of Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson. (SRPhoto/Colin Mulvany)
Attorney Chris Bugbee, who represents Spokane police Officer Tim Moses, said his reaction to the jury's conviction of Karl Thompson today was “the same reaction as everybody.”
“It's shocking to see a police officer who we trust to protect us being convicted of this crime, regardless of how you see the case,” Bugbee said. “I'm sad for the community but I'm glad it has been resolved one way or the other.”
Moses, who was granted immunity for his testimony during Thompson's trial, told jurors he was manipulated by the FBI into wrongly telling a grand jury that Thompson had said he'd hit Otto Zehm in the neck, head and upper torso with a police baton. Medics included that information in a report and said Moses told them it came from Thompson.
“I don't think Tim attempted to lie or mislead or participate in a coverup,” Bugbee said today.
Bugbee said when Moses watched video of himself at the Zip Trip that night with investigators before his grand jury testimony, “he kind of was misled and said 'well it must have been me if you guys say it was me,'” Bugbee said. “He shouldn't have. he kind of set aside his own thinking and allowed his trust in the FBI to take over.”
Bugbee said he doesn't know if the jury's verdict says anything about their view of Moses's credibility.
“I think the video alone was the powerful piece of evidence the government had,” Bugbee said. “I can understand the conviction seeing the video.”
He said jurors often don't consider witness testimony if there's an issue with credibility.
“They'll just disregard the testimony if there's other evidence they can decide the case on,” Bugbee said.
U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby said at a press conference today that he couldn't confirm or deny if an investigation is ongoing. Though prosecutors said in trial that the Spokane Police Department “whitewashed” the Zehm investigation, Ormsby said Thompson's conviction does not reflect on other officers.
Bugbee said this afternoon that he doesn't expect Moses to face charges. He said prosecutors seemed to understand what had happened when they granted Moses immunity.
He said Moses, as a patrol officer, has little experience with interrogations and reacted as many people do afterward.
“They feel like they were given a sense of trust that didn't exist and they were taken advantage of” Bugbee said. “Tim felt like he was taken advantage of, and in some sense, he probably was because that's the nature of an interrogation in a felony investigation.”
“I think Tim Moses was doing everything he could to be honest and truthful, and I really think he felt like he was getting taken advantage of.”
Bugbee said little is known about the government's ongoing obstruction of justice investigation, other than a target letter sent to Officer Sandy McIntyre, who was the first officer to review the surveillance video and see that Zehm never lunged at Thompson as police first alleged.
“I hope they're careful in who they decide to prusue in keeping in midn taht the community also has an interest t in putting this behind us,” Bugbee said. “The jury certainly believes that Mr. Zehm's rights were violated, and i hope that the community's satisfied with the conviction of Officer Thompson.”
A jury has 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 comes five years and seven months since Zehm’s life ended and growing questions of police accountability began. Prosecutors are expected to seek a prison term of six to eight years, arguing that Thompson was in a position of trust and that Zehm, who was schizophrenic, was particularly vulnerable. … Despite the criminal conviction, Thompson, 64, was allowed to remain free pending a follow up hearing before a magistrate in Spokane to argue continued release conditions. He posted a $50,000 signature bond following the criminal indictment in 2009/Thomas Clouse, SR. More here.
Reaction to verdict?
Federal prosecutors are expected to ask U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to immediately detain Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. if the jury convicts him of using unreasonable force.
The detention request is mandatory for all violent crimes. However, defense attorney Carl Oreskovich is expected to ask Van Sickle to keep Thompson out of jail until sentencing.
If the jury acquits Thompson, his status with Spokane Police Department remains up to administrators. Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks already has told federal authorities he believes Thompson violated several departmental use-of-force policies but the judge ruled his conclusions inadmissable at Thompson's criminal trial. Additionally, Thompson acknowledged on the witness stand that he made errors in his statement to detectives four days after the March 18, 2006, confrontation with Otto Zehm.
Either way, though, Oreskovich said during his closing argument that at 64 now, Thompson's law enforcement career is over.
If the jury hangs, federal prosecutors must decide whether to attempt another trial after attorneys spent years preparing for this and have worked nights averaging about four hours of sleep.
Before closing arguments today in the excessive force trial of Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson, lawyers debated the addition of two crucial jury instructions: one regarding Otto Zehm's right to defend himself against unlawful force and the other regarding the need for Thompson to be acting willfully to be convicted of depriving Zehm of his civil rights.
Both instructions were mentioned in closings arguments.
Federal prosecutor Victor Boutros said Zehm had the right to kick Thompson in the groin if he wanted to stop the unlawful force, but he chose not to. Instead, he defended himself with a pop bottle simply by placing it over his face to try to protect it from baton strikes.
Boutros said Thompson, 64, (pictured) continued to disgrace his badge by lying about the March 18, 2006, incident.
“At that point he thinks Detective (Theresa) Ferguson is going to whitewash this thing and what happens? She does,” Boutros said, who also said Officer Tim Moses and Thompson lied to jurors about the alleged discussion of head blows the night of the incident. Boutros questioned why Moses would be fearful of the FBI recording him at an off-site meeting after his grand jury testimony - testimony he refuted at trial - if he was just telling the truth.
Boutros said the defense has tried to focus on the 'lunge' phrase not being used by Thompson (Moses told jurors he 'coined it'), but the real focus should be on the meaning of the word: Thompson said that night that Zehm came at him, and though he told jurors he tried to correct it, he never did so.
Boutros said Thompson figured no one compared the video to his March 22 statement, which doesn't include anything about the lunge but doesn't mention Zehm taking a “boxing stance.” Boutros also questioned why Thompson didn't say anything about the lunge misstatement in that interview if he was so concerned about correcting it.
Boutros essentially took the defense's argument about not applying 20/20 hindsight to Thompson's actions and made it his own by saying the only one who used 20/20 hindsight was Thompson when he lied about what happened to cover his actions.
He said Thompson tried to “hide behind the shelf” of the Zip Trip by saying everything that justified his use of force happened outside of view. But jurors get to peer behind the shelf, Boutros said, through the eye witnesses who say Zehm never got up and took a boxing stance, and only struggled in pain.
“He counted on his police department to whitewash his misconduct, and it did,” Boutros said. “But now he is in a room where the law will not be ignored.”
“This is a tragic and terrible story, but it is not over yet,” Boutros continued, telling the jurors they get to “write the final chapter.”
“No one gets special treatment. Not even police officers,” Boutros told jurors. “You get the final word, and the final word is guilty.”
Oreskovich focused on the “willfull” requirement needed to convict Thompson and said even if jurors think Thompson was mistaken in his use of force, that doesn't mean they can convict.
“The government has to show you that he acted with a bad or evil purpose..” Oreskovich said. “Not that he went in there as a police officer to try to detain someone.”
Oreskovich said Thompson “was there to do one thing: Be a police officer.”
“When you look at the man you are judging you can stop right there and say 'that is a doubt,'” Oreskovich said. “This is an honorable man. A man who has fought for his country. A man who has been a good police officer for 42 years.”
Oreskovich called Thompson “someone who is respected. Someone who is a thinker. Someone who is not rash…someone who understands things and tries to make them better” for both police officers and citizens.
He mentioned Thompson's life-saving award and the petition by his fellow officer for him to be police chief in 2006.
“That's the man they want to say is a liar creating a 'web of lies.'” Oreskovich said.
“Just stop and think for a moment - does this look like the resume of a man who's going to act with bad intent?”
Oreskvoch reminded jurors that Thompson was on a dinner break filling out a report about a gun call to which he'd just responded.
When Thompson heard the call regarding Zehm, “What does our officer do? What does our liar do?” Oreskovich asked. Thompson went to his car and checked the dispatch log for more information.
“Those are the actions of a man who's doing the job that we want him to do,” Oreskovich told jurors. “Is it somewhere between the cop shop and the Zip Trip that he gets this bad evil purpose?…You know that didn't happen.”
Oreskovich said people who aren't in that situation can question Thompson's action afterward, but, “If those were my children standing at the counter…what I want is this man to go in there.”
In rebuttal, Boutros said he surprised how little was said about what Thompson did during the fatal encounter. He said Zehm never knew why he was hit and we may never know either.
He pointed to how Officer Steve Braun calmly responded to the call as a sign Thompson used excessive force.
The defense says he was just doing his job, but “His job was not to go in and beat an unarmed man who posed no threat.”
Boutros said the defense has created hypothetical cause of head injuries by suggesting Zehm hit his head on shelves, but that's not corroborated at all by testimony.
Regarding Thompson's statement to Ferguson, Boutros said he wasn't forgetting things- he was adding them. He wasn't getting things out of order - he was “making stuff up.”
“Are people going to jail because statements are as wrong as this one?” Boutros said, questioning what happens in far more serious cases with real deadly weapons.
He told jurors to not “forget what happened to Mr. Zehm” and spoke of the pain and terror he felt while being beaten.
Boutros also reminded jurors that Zehm's last reported words were “I only wanted a Snickers.”
Today would have been Zehm's 42nd birthday. Jurors were not told of that fact.
Jurors are hearing instructions before closing arguments begin. Get minute-by-minute updates from the courtroom here.
When jurors began deliberations in the excessive force trial of Officer Karl Thompson, they won't be able to review the surveillance video of his fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm without first notifying the court.
Jurors are to review the video and any other electronic evidence such as photos in open court with prosecutors and defense lawyers present.
Jurors had requested a way to better view the video during deliberations. Defense lawyer Carl Oreskovich objected, saying this morning that he was worried about “someone controlling the flow of the information and doing it perhaps improperly” if jurors had free access to electronic playback equipment in the deliberation room.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin said the technology requested was reasonable.
“I'm not going to call it the new age, because it's certainly not new. It's been around 15, 20 years,” Durkin said. “We have a very intelligent jury panel” including man with PhD in chemistry and others with advanced degrees.
Durkin continued, “For us to turn back to a time” and make jurors view evidence in court would “place a significant chill” on deliberations.
U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle said the request just wasn't fair or feasible, though he prefaced his ruling by saying, “I regard myself as a digital immigrant, but I have made every effort to progress.”
The case against Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. should be in the jury's hands by Monday afternoon, which would have been Otto Zehm's 42nd birthday.
Thompson, the first officer to confront Zehm following a mistaken report of a possible theft in 2006, is accused of using excessive force and lying to investigators about the fatal encounter. Zehm died two days later after being beaten with a baton, shocked with Tasers and hogtied.
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Monday morning.
You can follow real-time highlights of the courtroom drama at Tracking the Trial, the SR's aggregated online Twitter feed.
Karl Thompson is back on the stand right now as prosecutors finish cross examination. Get minute-by-minute updates here.
Thompson's testimony began Thursday:
YAKIMA – After more than five years of videotape review and federal allegations of a police coverup, Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. on Thursday explained his actions against Otto Zehm before a jury.
In his first public comments since his statement to detectives four days after the March 18, 2006, confrontation with Zehm, Thompson gave new justifications for his use of force that day and acknowledged that he erred in some of his descriptions of how he struck Zehm with a baton and Tasered him during a prolonged struggle.
A retired Spokane police detective who found no evidence that Officer Karl Thompson used excessive force when confronting Otto Zehm testified as a witness for the defense Thursday, but her most memorable testimony came on cross examination.
Defense lawyer Carl Oreskovich didn't get much from questioning Theresa “Terry” Ferguson (pictured) after U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle prohibited her from discussing Thompson's statements to her because of hearsay concerns from prosecutors.
Oreskovich asked Ferguson if she had a follow up discussion with Thompson on March 27 and discussed the “lunge” claim, but Ferguson wasn't allowed to answer. Oreskovich ended questioning, and prosecutor Victor Boutros proceeded to tear into Ferguson's investigation of the case in cross examination.
Boutros first asked Ferguson if her role as an investigators”was not to be an advocate for the defendant,” which she said was correct. Defense attorneys objected to the line of questioning, but a witness's credibility can be called into question on cross examination and Boutros was allowed to proceed.
Boutros asked Ferguson, “You can't prosecute someone who's dead, is that true?” Ferguson said yes, but she can investigate the crime, which is what she was doing when she called Zehm an assault suspect. Boutros focused on the two-hour, off-the-record “pre-interview”
He asked if Thompson said in that interview that Zehm just “maybe” had gotten the girls' money, that Thompson said he could have disengaged Zehm before shocking him with a Taser, and that he was using his baton to keep his distance from Zehm.
“What I don't recall are specific words but obviously that's what was said because it's in my notes,” Ferguson said.
Boutros asked Ferguson about recommending Spokane County prosecutors not charge Thompson. Ferguson said she did not make a recommendation one way or another on charges.
“I did not discourage them from doing anything,” Ferguson said. “The report that I submitted are my results, which certainly aren't binding on a prosecutor - obviously.”
Ferguson said she didn't think to interview anyone with AMR, which is how federal investigators found the two medics who claim Officer Tim Moses told them Thompson said he hit Zehm in the head, neck and upper torso with a police baton. She also said she knows of three eye witness statements that spoke of possible baton strikes to the head.
In responding to an objection, Boutros said ” I want to show that her conclusion didn't take into consideration any of this information that she had.”
Boutros said Ferguson's report to county prosecutors found no evidence of excessive force, but “that was incorrect, wasn't it?” Van Sickle sustained a swift objection from defense lawyers. (Prosecutors have said Ferguson acknowledged to the grand jury that her investigation was “inaccurate.”)
On re-direct questioning, Oreskovich questioned Ferguson about standard procedure for officer interviews to show that Ferguson was just following policy. She said Thompson said he “could have disengaged” Zehm but chose not to because “he knew that there were other people in the store.” Ferguson said Thompson said there were objects that could be used as weapons in the store, and he didn't know if Zehm was armed.
Oreskovich asked Ferguson if Thompson said he was scared, but an objection from the prosecution was sustained and Ferguson was excused as a witness.
Thompson took the stand next and testified the rest of the day. Read more about that here. Cross examination is to continue tomorrow at 8 a.m.
Jurors in the excessive force trial of Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. apparently are bothered by the lack of information about Otto Zehm being allowed in the trial.
U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle disclosed today that he received a letter from the jury advising they want more information about Zehm, the schizophrenic janitor who died following a violent 2006 encounter with Spokane police officers after being mistakenly identified as a suspect in a possible theft.
Although the specific letter was not disclosed in court, Van Sickle said he wouldn't be granting the jury's request, specifically anything that would show Zehm had not committed a crime when he was confronted by police nor was he high on drugs as some had speculated. Van Sickle has barred any mention in front of jurors of Zehm's innocence or toxicology reports showing no illegal drugs in his system.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed pleaded with Van Sickle to essentially give the jury what it wants.
“Several witnesses have indicated that Mr. Zehm was high on drugs,” Ahmed said. “The United States has to have some way of rebutting that besides just remaining silent.”
Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich told Van Sickle his earlier rulings should remain in place.
“We are at a point in the case where we are putting on our last day,” Oreskovich said. “I understand the jurors have questions. But to put evidence in based on a juror question is inappropriate.”
Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson is testifying now as the last witness in his excessive force trial in U.S. District Court in Yakima.
This is the first time Thompson has spoken publicly about the fatal confontation with Otto Zehm on March 18, 2006.
Retired Spokane police Detective Theresa Ferguson testified before Thompson.
Karl Thompson and his legal team, including Carl Oreskovich and Steve Lamberson, arrive at the William O. Douglas Federal Building in Yakima for the start of Thompson's trial. (AP file photo)
Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson will testify tomorrow at his excessive force trial in U.S. District Court in Yakima. I will be providing minute-by-minute updates from court through Twitter.
Thompson, 64, is expected to be the last witness before the defense rests its case. He's thought to be his own biggest defense against the lying to investigators charge. His lawyers, Carl Oreskovich and Steve Lamberson, questioned an expert earlier this week about “fractured memory” for police officers in critical incidents.
Testifying today were Detective Larry Bowman and Officer Terry Preuninger (pictured). Both men said Thompson followed training and used his baton and Taser accordingly against Otto Zehm. Read more from Tom Clouse in Yakima here.
Closing arguments in the case appear to be likely on Monday, which would be Zehm's birthday.
Thompson has been off patrol working a desk job since he was indicted in 2009. He had been back on patrol just after the March 18, 2006, fatal encounter.
The defense is expected to rest on Thursday. Defense expert Michael Schott, a forensic image analyst who disputes prosecutors' description of the surveillence video, is on the stand now. Get minute-by-minute updates from the courtroom here.
YAKIMA – Spokane police Officer Steven Braun Jr. on Tuesday described Otto Zehm to jurors as someone who probably had committed a robbery, was trying to flee and then struggled violently against Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.
Braun provided details of the confrontation not captured on surveillance video from the north Spokane Zip Trip. Braun, the second officer to respond that night, described what he heard from dispatchers on March 18, 2006.
Good morning, Netizens…
This belated greetings comes to you after a marathon 19 hour work day, which was preceded by another killer of a day just before it. Somehow, through the miracle of the Internet, I have been closely following the various Twitter feeds from Yakima in the Otto Zehm affair, and I must admit, as excellent as the reporting has been my stomach has suffered recurring bouts of serious upset as I suspect, although I cannot prove beyond a question of a doubt, that this entire case, rather than a search for the truth of the murder of Otto Zehm, is a search for ways to find everyone involved, from Karl Thompson to Mayor Queen Mary Verner not guilty of any malfeasance, and leaving their hands as lily-white as snow.
The facts, such as they are, in the form of the grainy video from the Zip Trip Store, are just vague enough that I question whether they will ever find Karl Thompson guilty, much less all the others who played roles in this ongoing travesty of justice. People lied. Others, including Rocky Treppiedi, tried to circumvent or at least bend the will of the Grand Jury to their goals of thwarting justice.
Of course, few of these transgressions will ever be brought before a judge and jury. That, in my opinion, is the unfortunate and miserably sad truth of the trial of Karl Thompson. Even if they succeed in finding Thompson guilty, the “big fish” have skated away unscathed and thus justice for Otto Zehm has not been served.
In my opinion, it is time to overhaul the system. Of course, your opinions could differ.
A second medical expert testified today that injuries to Otto Zehm's head were not caused by a police baton.
Dr. Daniel Davis, a forensic pathologist and the medical examiner in Lane County, Ore., said Zehm's head injuries were not caused by Officer Karl Thompson hitting Zehm with a baton, despite what others have previously said.
“These are characteristic for someone who bangs their head against” a flat surface like a floor or wall, Davis said about bruising under Zehm's scalp.
Davis says he reviewed surveillance video and sees a “variety” of opportunities for Zehm to hit head on the floor or shelves.
White Elephant Manager Pat Conley is on the stand right now and is describing Zehm has combative and angry.
Spokane police officers are expected to testify this afternoon.
U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle apparently has grown weary of the continuing admissibility battles between the prosecution and defense in Officer Karl Thompson's excessive force trial.
“I don't recall spending as much time pre-trial on any criminal case I've ever tried, and I've been doing them for 35 years,” the judge declared outside the presence of the jury Monday during a clash over the qualifications of a defense witness.
The witness, William Lewinski, is a self-described expert in the field of police psychology who routinely testifies in favor of law enforcement in cases of excessive force.
He formerly taught what he calls police psychology at the University of Minnesota-Mankato and now focuses on research that shows police officers often have fractured memories of stressful events and typically won't remember the encounters in proper sequence.
The defense is using the research to help argue against the charge that Thompson lied to investigators.
Prosecutors sought unsuccessfully to bar Lewinski from testifying as an “expert” witnesss, calling into question his methods and training.
John Drake, a legal intern at the U.S. attorney's office in Spokane, said he reviewed Lewinski's credentials with Lisa Fornier, an associate professor of psychology at Washington State University.
“It's fair to say Dr. Fornier's initial reaction were shock and disbelief to claims made by Dr. lewisinski,” Drake said. “It's lacking in the most basic” scientific research methodology.
But Van Sickle said that ground had already been plowed when he previously ruled that Lewinski was qualified to testify as an expert.
During cross examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin pointed out that Lewinski is not licensed to work as a psychologist and that police psychology isn't even a recognized field by the American Pyschology Association.
Lewinski - who charges a $3,800 retainer fee, $475 hourly rate and $3,500 to testify for four hours - said he has interviewed more than 1,200 officers who have been involved in deadly force situations.
Durkin asked Lewinski if he ever has testified that an officer was unjustified in using deadly force. “That's not my area,” Lewinski said.
“I don't make legal decisions.”
Here's a summary from yesterday:
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 jurors Otto Zehm’s head injuries “couldn’t have” come from a police baton.
The conclusion of Dr. James Nania, a longtime emergency room physician at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane, contradicts testimony of Spokane County Medical Examiner Dr. Sally Aiken and another medical expert called by federal prosecutors last week, both of whom said bleeding under Zehm’s scalp was consistent with baton strikes.
“They couldn’t have been,” Nania said. “You can’t do that kind of injury … without smashing the scalp.”
The first witness of the day in the Karl Thompson trial is Angela Wiggins, who was working at Zip Trip the night of the encounter that led to Otto Zehm's death.
Prosecutors say Wiggins, who was arrested last week on a material witness warrant, heard Officer Sandy McIntyre say “there's no lunge,” which McIntyre denied last week.
Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson described his encounter with Otto Zehm in a 2006 interview with Detective Terry Ferguson, who has since retired.
Jurors heard that interview in court last week.
Now you can listen to it above.
Thompson is pictured outside the Yakima courthouse with his lawyer, Carl Oreskovich. He's charged with violating Zehm's civil rights and falsfying documents related to the investigation.
Oreskovich unsuccessfully tried to get the last charge dismissed in April 2010, arguing Thompson never swore to tell the trurth when he signed the document detailing the encounter.