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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

Feds ask to keep Zehm trial in Spokane

A federal prosecutor has asked a judge to reconsider his Tuesday decision to move the upcoming criminal trial of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to Yakima. But defense attorneys support the move.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin filed a motion outlining the difficulties of moving more than 100 witnesses some 200 miles for a trial he predicted would last five to six weeks. He asked for an expedited review of the motion by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Karl Thompson trial moved to Yakima

A federal judge Tuesday moved the upcoming criminal trial of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to Yakima after defense attorneys raised concerns about the extent of local media coverage of the controversy surrounding the fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle also ruled to exclude Spokane County from the jury pool. Potential jurors will be selected from a portion of Adams County and all of Franklin, Walla Walla, Yakima, Kittitas, Benton and Klickitat counties.

While Van Sickle said he’s not persuaded that the publicity has created “actual” or “perceived” bias against Thompson, he decided to move the trial nonetheless.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Longtime Dem backs Condon, blasts Verner over Zehm

Former Democratic County Chairman and one-time congressional candidate Tom Keefe said today he is reaching outside his normal partisan boundaries to endorse David Condon in the mayor's race.

Officially, municipal races in Spokane are non-partisan. But sometimes the county organization or prominent party members endorse candidates who are politically well aligned. When that happens, it's sometimes considered news, but rarely is it NEWS.

But this is not one of those cases. Instead, it's an instance of a longtime Democrat endorsing a known Republican. Keefe is a former congressional aide whose service goes all the way back to Warren G. Magnuson; he ran for Congress against Republican Rep. George Nethercutt in 2000.

Condon is the former district manager to Nethercutt's successor, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and a GOP campaigner before becoming a candidate.

The reason for the cross-party endorsement? The Otto Zehm case…

Verner doesn’t blame Hession

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said last week that a campaign statement on the Otto Zehm matter wasn't meant to pin blame on others.

Responding to a news release criticizing her response to the Otto Zehm cases from her election opponent, David Condon, Verner released her own statement on Sept. 6. Part of it appeared to assign blame to her predecessor, Dennis Hession: “I believe the voters will see through his (Condon's) attempt to blame me for actions of a former city administration, the county prosecutor, and other attorneys working on this case in Federal Court. As I have said all along, I respect the judicial process and the facts that will come forth,” Verner said in the Sept. 6 news release.

Verner said the statement was rushed and probably was poorly worded in the rush to respond to Condon.
“If you read my statment verbatim, I don't say Dennis Hession should be blamed for anything,” she said. “I don't blame Dennis Hession and I don't believe Dennis Hession blames me.”

2nd officer in Zehm probe identified

With the excessive force trial of a Spokane police officer less than a month away, the identity of a second officer under active federal investigation in connection with the fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm has been confirmed.

 Senior Spokane Police Officer Sandra McIntyre (pictured) already has testified before a federal grand jury that indicted fellow officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. She now faces a potential obstruction of justice charge based on her testimony, according to her attorney and others familiar with the ongoing probe.

“She is telling them what she knows,” McIntyre’s attorney, Rob Cossey, said. “But they think she has more information.”

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Lawyer wants Thompson trial moved

The attorney representing Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. filed a motion today asking a federal judge to move the upcoming Oct. 11 trial because of “intense” media coverage and because it has become a political issue in the upcoming mayoral election.

Carl Oreskovich acknowledged in his filing that the deadline for such motions ended on July 21. He wrote in his court filing that he had been withholding his request for change of venue to see if attorneys had difficulty finding a jury to hear evidence about the fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm.

“Since that (July) date, there has been a marked upsurge of publicity and political attention surrounding this case, including dramatic public reaction to the 22 page declaration of Assistant Chief Nicks filed on Aug. 5, 2011,” Oreskovich wrote.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Nicks to retire as Kirkpatrick steps down

The Spokane Police Department’s top two officers are on their way out, leaving city officials to find new leadership as they struggle with the continuing legal fallout surrounding the death of Otto Zehm.

 Assistant Chief Jim Nicks announced Tuesday his upcoming retirement will coincide with the previously announced departure of Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

 Nicks, who is 53 and has spent 30 years on the force, played a pivotal role in the city’s handling of the fatal 2006 confrontation involving the unarmed Zehm.

At that time, Nicks was acting police chief and publicly backed the actions of Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., telling the community that the 36-year-old mentally ill Zehm “attacked” and “lunged” at Thompson.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

April 20: Chief says time in Spokane nearing end

The truth about Otto Zehm begins to emerge…

Good evening Netizens…

 

We have been bystanders for over five years as the Otto Zehm homicide has inexorably ground its way through the news, and until recently we were none the better-informed for it. All we knew for a certainty was that an innocent man was beaten to death and asphyxiated by a group of cops in a Zip Trip Store. Fortunately, there were damning videotapes which showed the grisly beating, and the total lack of violent behavior on Zehm's part. Every time anyone got too close to the truth of the matter, they were either ignored entirely or the City Government sought to nullify their actions and words.

 

Our own Mayor, who I gleefully call Queen Mary, for her imperious, high-handed manner of governance, has apparently sought to sweep the entire affair beneath the rug. The reign of terror hardly stops there, which is more a condemnation of our City Government than other incidents of the past involving our Spokane Police Department. There is no lack of corruption in City Hall, nor in the Police Department. So it doesn't surprise me in the least that our Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick and Assistant Chief Jim Nicks are both bailing out of the Police Department while the chances are still good they might get away unscathed.

 

Chief Kirkpatrick has made no bones about the fact she was leaving, and has bid on several jobs in other police jurisdictions in the past. Unfortunately, the Spokane Police Guild cast a vote of “no confidence” in her leadership just days after federal documents revealed that Nicks had reversed his earlier statements and was expected to testify against Karl Thompson, the man who ceaselessly beat Otto Zehm that ill-fated night.

 

Now that the zipper has been unzipped from City Hall, and various other elements of government, we can see the filthy hands of Ernie Wuthrich, the head of the Police Guild, is not necessarily working toward justice for all. Rocky Treppiedi, like Wuthrich, works for his own designs, best-known for suing citizens who have an ordinary grievance with City Hall. More sweeping goes on in City Hall in 2008 and 2009 when Rocky Treppiedi, according to court records, begins preparing “the majority” of Spokane police officers for testimony before the federal grand jury and debriefs them afterward about what they said. This also includes non-police witnesses.

 

Too little too late, Queen Mary announces in a press conference that she will be conducting a full internal and external review of the city’s handling of the case of Otto Zehm. Why did she wait so long? Was this the power the Police Guild has over Queen Mary?

 

Wait until the criminal trial works its way onto the federal Court docket. There may be other surprises which wait unseen, and other names may come into play. Perhaps Queen Mary will descend from the throne of the City of Spokane and somehow manage to put a good face on all the corruption.

 

Of course, your results may differ.

 

Dave

Have the wheels fallen off the cart?

Good morning, Netizens…

 

In case you haven't been following recent news surrounding the Otto Zehm murder investigation, yesterday events got even more harried, hectic and somewhat misleading than they have been in recent times, especially from the perspective of Mayor Queen Mary Verner and various City Hall luminaries which will be mentioned by name as this article progresses. It has been nearly five years since Otto Zehm was murdered by the Spokane Police Department in a North Side Zip Trip store, and the details of how Otto met his demise have been in what appears to be a constant state of flux, depending upon whom was making the statements.

 

The search for truth has expanded its sphere from the various investigative officers of the Spokane Police Department to include Queen Mary Verner, City Attorney Howard Delaney Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick to name a few. Unfortunately, now the tale of Otto Zehm has even reached the offices of the U.S. Attorney's office, and this is where, in the words of retired detective Ron Wright, “the wheels began to fall off the cart.”

 

David Condon, Verner's political opponent in the upcoming election, already had opened up a can of worms when he stated earlier in the week that the upcoming trial of Karl Thompson would serve as “an indictment” of City Government. Yesterday, when Mayor Verner scheduled her press conference, she had no stated reason for excluding Councilman Bob Apple from the list of Council members Verner had invited to attend, but Apple showed up of his own accord and wasted little time in asking why Verner had waited so long to pursue an investigation into the Zehm affair.

 

Is there a coverup unfolding in City Hall, as some have suggested? Is there a lack of transparency in City Government, as others have suggested? Have the wheels fallen off the cart of City Government? Has there been a coverup of the facts surrounding the murder of Otto Zehm?

 

At least from my perspective, it would seem so. Of course, your results and opinions may differ.

 

Dave

 

Mayor responds to Condon’s criticism of Verner’s handling of Zehm case

 

Below is Mayor Mary Verner's full response to the statement released earlier in the day by her opponent in the November election, David Condon, followed by Condon's statement. Condon offered harsh criticism of Verner's handling of the Otto Zehm matter. Verner's response was delivered by her campaign, not by the city.

MARY VERNER'S FULL NEWS RELEASE: 

Mayor Mary Verner says she is deeply disappointed in former Congressional aide Dave Condon’s reckless attempt to use the tragedy of the Otto Zehm death for his personal political ambition.

Condon wrote a campaign news release today, criticizing the mayor, city police, city attorneys, and city staffers.

Feds sought meetings w/ city re: Zehm

U.S. Department of Justice officials two years ago had significant enough “ethical concerns” with the city of Spokane’s legal department that they asked to meet with Mayor Mary Verner, police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and City Council President Joe Shogan.

But none of the three ever responded, and it’s unclear whether City Attorney Howard Delaney even informed them of the request that an assistant U.S. attorney labeled “urgent.”

Shogan said last week that city attorneys never told him that federal officials wanted to meet.

When shown emails on file in federal court from the U.S. attorney’s office asking Delaney to set up a meeting, Verner said last week: “I have not read this before, and that’s the extent of what I’m going to say about it.”

Read the rest of Jonathan Brunt's story here.

Pop the lid on the box and see what falls out…

Good afternoon, Netizens…

 

Like a vaunted knight of old, I have been futilely railing at Queen Mary Verner, Joe Shogun, Rocky Treppiedi, Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and a host of other high-ranking city officials for what may seem like a lifetime to some, and until very recently, it would seem that I was wasting my breath and time. However, in today's paper, someone lit the fuse beneath Jonathan Brunt, reporter for the Spokesman-Review, and he posted what I feel is one of the most-informative, honest and dead-on stories about the murder of Otto Zehm since this entire ugly affair first hit our fair city.

 

We are getting closer to the truth, and Brunt may have shown us the pathway to follow. Read the entire piece, including the comments (of which there are many) here:

 

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/aug/28/feds-sought-meetings-with-city-leaders-on-zehm/

 

As in most criminal affairs, it all comes down to who knew, when did they know and why is it only now we, the citizens, are hearing bits and pieces of the truth?

 

The citizens of our fair city can either sit on their hams and watch City Hall rearrange the facts to suit themselves, thus keeping the people in the dark, or the citizens can take action at the ballot box. One way or the other, it is time for action. Of course, your thoughts on this matter may differ.

 

Dave

When will the guilty be held accountable?

Good evening, Netizens…

At some considerable risk of having this message zotted by my handlers, I am going to post this message from former Sheriff Tony Bamonte to Tim Durkin, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. I am posting it verbatim, in its entirety, in the hopes that others might read and carefully consider Mr. Bamonte's impeccable comments regarding the murder of Otto Zehm. I knew from the beginning that something was horribly wrong about the initial police version of what had transpired, and recent developments make me even more certain we were misled from the beginning.

So, without further ado, here is former Sheriff Tony Bamonte's letter:

Dear Mr. Durkin:

Please accept this correspondence as a formal complaint against the following people: Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, Spokane City Attorney Howard Delaney, and assistant city attorney Rocky Trepeddi. I am making my complaint to you because of your involvement and knowledge about the Zehm case. I ask that you forward this complaint to the attorney general for his approval. I believe you already have strong evidence to prove that, in harmony with each other, the above community leaders have conspired to mislead and have deceived the public for over five years. This concerns what appears to be the brutal killing of an innocent citizen by a police officer. The evidence of this has been overwhelming and exceptionally clear. I am especially concerned about Mayor Verner’s conduct in the case. In her position she is the only public official in the city with the power to remove the city attorney and the police chief for criminal behavior, yet, to this date, has taken no action of any kind.

Most important, in the positions each of these officials occupy, it was their duty to find and know the truth and protect the public. Instead, I allege each one of them knew the truth, yet in violation of their oaths and with complete disregard for the public’s welfare, publicly lied and concealed this felony crime. Further, I believe that the officers involved had to have been directed by their legal council to lie. The complicity of Mayor Verner and Chief Kirkpatrick is profound. Their failure to know the facts behind this case is unbelievable as they are both attorneys involved in one of Spokane’s largest scandals. Why would the mayor of Washington’s second largest city, make the public statement “In my opinion, … I just don’t think that the behavior of the officer rose to criminal behavior”?

In her position, this was a criminal act and violation of her oath of office in a direct attempt to deceive the public. I am a 25-year veteran of law enforcement, having served eight years on the Spokane Police Department and 12 years as the elected sheriff of Pend Oreille County. Consequently, I clearly recognize how government works, who will have the facts as fast as they become available, and who makes the decisions in high-profile cases such as this. This constitutes a number of criminal acts and is willful and wanton disregard for the safety of our community by Mayor Verner.

There is an established pattern of Spokane’s public officials lying to the public and committing serious crimes that go uncharged or prosecuted. Now, you have irrefutable evidence that Spokane’s top officials have became part of a cover-up by our police department of a senseless killing. It appears they will not have to answer for their crimes. It looks that Deputy Nicks struck a deal to protect the main suspects. I hope that’s not the case.

Again, please accept this letter as a formal complaint to investigate and charge these public officials with violating whatever laws they have broken – the list is long.

Sincerely,

Tony Bamonte

 

 Dave

Mayor pushes to resolve Zehm suit

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner announced Tuesday that she is seeking “all courses of action” to resolve the civil case surrounding the city’s handling of the fatal 2006 confrontation between Spokane police and mentally ill janitor Otto Zehm.

Verner said media attention over the past week has brought “raw emotions and ongoing frustration from our community, made worse by the complexity of legal processes surrounding the matter,” according to a news release.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Expert says officers caused Zehm’s death

A medical expert hired by the Spokane police officer facing criminal charges over the fatal Otto Zehm confrontation is blaming other officers at the scene for causing the unarmed janitor’s death.

Court documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court indicate Dr. Daniel Davis is prepared to testify in Officer Karl Thompson’s excessive force trial that the asphyxiation that killed Zehm was caused by officers pressing down on him while he was hogtied on the floor of a Zip Trip convenience store.

Read the rest of Tom Clouses's story here.

Expert says Zehm’s death caused by officers

A medical expert hired by the Spokane police officer facing criminal charges over the fatal Otto Zehm confrontation is blaming other officers at the scene for causing the unarmed janitor’s death.

Court documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court indicate Dr. Daniel Davis is prepared to testify in Officer Karl Thompson’s excessive force trial that the asphyxiation that killed Zehm was caused by officers pressing down on him while he was hogtied on the floor of a Zip Trip convenience store. Thomas Clouse, SR  More here.

Will there ever be justice for Otto Zehm?

Nicks changes story on Zehm’s death

 

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner Tuesday acknowledged that the city is re-evaluating its legal position in the Otto Zehm controversy after new court documents indicate officers violated use-of-force and other departmental policies in the fatal 2006 confrontation.

According to court records filed last week in the upcoming federal trial against Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson, Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks is prepared to testify that major crimes detectives failed to analyze the video of the confrontation compared to Thompson’s statement; they never followed up on a report from an ambulance crew that Thompson struck Zehm in the head with a baton; and his own review of the video shows that Thompson violated several policies and procedures by applying unjustified force against the retreating Zehm.

Read the rest of the story here.

The truth about Otto Zehm emerges…finally.

Good morning, Netizens…

 

To quote the Spokesman-Review's Shawn Vestal, in speaking of Jim Nicks' erratic and misleading trip to the truth regarding the death of Otto Zehm, “It took just five years, 20 weeks and a day.” That, folks, is just too damned long for a so-called leader of Spokane's Police Department, let alone any leader of government.

 

Oh, I am reasonably certain, given the opportunity, to reel his statements made at the time, Jim Nicks would probably gleefully take back everything he said about Officer Karl Thompson's assault on Otto Zehm, but this that isn't going to happen. The cat is out of the bag, and the truth is pretty ugly. A police officer, our Acting Chief at the time, lied to everyone, either by omission or by intent. He should have looked carefully at the videotape from the Zip Trip before he opened his mouth, and he did not.

 

Shawn Vestal's fact-filled article, which is located at http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/aug/10/shawn-vestal-truth-about-zehm-sure-took-a-while/ pretty much says it all.

 

For the sake of absolute clarity, what this is not about is the rank-and-file policemen and policewomen who put their lives on the line every day in their performance of their duties. Their thankless and often dangerous job is a mean, ugly job. They serve as human garbage disposal experts combined with social workers extraordinaire; they deal with the dregs of society that none of us are capable nor eager to contend with, and yet deal with compassion with those of society in need. That pretty much describes their jobs, and I, for one, will not disparage their efforts.

 

No, the Otto Zehm death is all about a handful of police commanders who lied, and perhaps even attempted to cover it up. Particularly the lies started with Jim Nicks and Karl Thompson. In the words of our current police chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, “You lie, you die.” Will anyone in Spokane's City government have the temerity to hold Kirkpatrick to her word?

 

It is time to excise the cancer. Five years is too long to wait.

 

Dave

Court: Zehm’s innocence not admissible

A jury likely will not learn that Otto Zehm was innocent of a crime when he was confronted by a Spokane police officer in a fatal encounter five years ago, federal appeals court judges ruled Thursday. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals supported a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to exclude from the trial of Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. the evidence that Zehm had not committed a crime prior to the incident on March 18, 2006.

Carl Oreskovich, one of the attorneys defending Thompson against the felony charges of excessive force and lying to investigators, said he was “obviously” pleased with the decision.

Read Tom Clouse's full story here.

9th Circuit hears arguments in Zehm case

SEATTLE — A jury should be told Otto Zehm hadn’t committed any crime before he was beaten by a Spokane police officer who claims Zehm was aggressive and defiant when confronted in a North Side convenience store, a federal appeals court panel was told Monday.

Federal prosecutors have appealed a pretrial ruling by U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle in Spokane that excludes evidence of Zehm’s innocence as prejudicial and inflammatory. They told a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals it would help the jury decide whether Thompson was lying when he later described Zehm with words like sinister, aggressive, defiant and resolute.

But an attorney for Officer Karl Thompson said the trial judge is right to keep such information from a jury when the trial starts, because Thompson didn’t know those facts when he approached Zehm. It’s inflammatory and could prejudice the jury against the officer, attorney Carl Oreskovich said.

Read the rest of Jim Camden's story here.