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
By content type
Latest updates in this topic
The criminal case against Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. now has a slim chance of proceeding in March after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday agreed to speed up its review of the appeal that stopped the case cold in June.
The federal appeals court will hear the case in February after prosecutors appealed U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle’s ruling that they could not present evidence that mentally ill janitor Otto Zehm had not committed a crime on March 18, 2006, when he was confronted by Thompson. Zehm died two days later.
“Appeals before trial are so rare that it does not surprise me that the circuit decided to speed up the process,” said attorney Jeffry Finer, who represents the Zehm estate in a separate civil case.
With a jury pool waiting in another room, a federal judge Monday postponed the criminal trial against Karl F. Thompson Jr. after prosecutors announced their intention to appeal his ruling that barred evidence showing Otto Zehm had not committed a crime before Thompson confronted him.
U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle ruled that attorneys for both sides could not introduce evidence about Zehm’s mental illness, or items found in Zehm’s pockets, or essentially anything that Thompson didn’t know before the confrontation on March 18, 2006.
Read the rest of Thomas Clouse’s story here.
The federal trial of Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. (a former Kootenai County sheriff’s captain) in the Otto Zehm case will be postponed at least two months as as prosecutors appeal a judge’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle this morning ordered that the government could not offer evidence that Zehm had not committed a crime the night of his March 2006 confrontation with police at the North Division Zip Trip/Thomas Clouse, SR. More here.
After years of Spokane Police officials claiming that Otto Zehm suffered from “excited delirium,” a defense attorney said Thursday that he will avoid offering any evidence or expert testimony about the disputed medical condition often cited by police agencies to explain controversial in-custody deaths.
Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich said he could no longer include testimony about excited delirium following rulings by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle barring the defense from using medical records showing Zehm suffered from paranoid schizophrenia or that he’d had a physical confrontation with a Spokane County deputy sheriff in 1990.
Read the rest of Thomas Clouse’s story here.
The attorney defending Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. spent a good portion of a hearing Monday defending the city of Spokane’s legal strategy.
The attorney, Carl Oreskovich, told a federal judge that no conflict exists between his roles defending Thompson on criminal charges stemming from a fatal confrontation with mentally ill janitor Otto Zehm and his work representing Thompson in a $2.9 million civil suit.
Read the rest of Tom Clouse’s story here.
UPDATE: A judge has ruled that no conflict of interest exists in the legal representation. Read more here.
By Thomas Clouse
A hearing is set for Monday on the conflict of interest claim brought by prosecutors in the Karl Thompson case.
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals appointed U.S. District Court Judge Philip Pro of Las Vegas to decide the issue. Judge Fred Van Sickle had asked for a new judge to be appointed.
Pro held a telephone conference Wednesday in which U.S Attorney Tim Durkin explained why he believes a conflict exists with Thompson’s defense and defense lawyer Carl Oreskovich presented a waiver by Thompson (left) saying he’s willing to wave his right to “be represented by counsel with undivided loyalties,” he wrote in part.
“I am aware of the potential conflicts of interest that could arise with the continued representation of Mr. Oreskovich, Mr. (Stephen) Lamberson, and other members in their firm,” Thompson wrote.
Durkin’s motion asks for Oreskovich to either be disqualified or for a detailed review into how the city has handled Thompson’s defense.
The Spokane City Council twice voted last year to hire Oreskovich to represent the “City and its employees” in the $2.9 million civil suit brought on behalf of the estate of Zehm by the public interest law firm Center for Justice.
Thompson later hired Oreskovich to represent him in the criminal case, Oreskovich wrote in court documents. Oreskovich also wrote that he signed an addendum to his contract in 2009 to specify that he was only representing Thompson.
Assistant Chief Jim Nicks, Detective Terry Ferguson and Officer Jason Uberuaga could be called to testify at Monday’s hearing.
Nicks was the acting chief and he maintained for months that Zehm “lunged” and “attacked” Thompson until the release of the surveillance video clearly showed no such lunge or attack. Ferguson investigated the confrontation and forwarded her report to Spokane County prosecutors indicating she had no evidence that Thompson used excessive force.
However, Durkin has alleged in court documents that at least three witnesses are expected to testify that they saw Thompson hit Zehm in the head with a police baton, which would constitute illegal lethal force.
And Uberuaga initially gave federal agents statements saying he believed Thompson used excessive force. But Durkin wrote in court filings that Uberuaga asked to change his statements after consulting with Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi.
A second Spokane police officer has received a letter indicating that federal prosecutors intend to seek further charges in connection with the Otto Zehm investigation.
Spokane attorney Rob Cossey said he represents three or four officers as a federal grand jury continues to gather information in the case. He confirmed that one of his clients has received what’s known as a target letter, which essentially informs the person that federal officials intend to charge him or her with a crime.
“The person is right square in the sights of the U.S. attorney’s office. I can’t tell you the name of the person,” Cossey said. “It’s more definite than a target letter. We will know more next week for sure.”
Read the rest of Tom Clouse’s story here.
Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. divorced his wife to shield his assets and force taxpayers to foot the bill for his criminal defense, the federal prosecutor in the Otto Zehm case alleged in court documents filed last week.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin filed a motion asking U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to allow the government to tell the jury in Thompson’s upcoming trial about the divorce agreement, which Durkin called a “fraudulent transfer” under Idaho law.
Thompson’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich, called the fraud
Read the rest of Thomas Clouse’s story here.
Past coverage and a document containing federal allegations
about Thompson’s divorce filing can be found here.
Attorneys employed by the city of Spokane no longer will represent Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson in the legal battles stemming from the 2006 death of Otto Zehm, according to a recent court filing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin, in arguments filed last month, said the city’s simultaneous representation of Thompson and other police officers created “obvious and apparent conflicts.”
That filing singled out Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi’s role in the Zehm incident, in which the mentally ill janitor was beaten, shocked with a Taser and hogtied on the ground by police before dying in a hospital two days later.
Read Thomas Clouse’s story here.
Also, Thompson’s defense is looking to exclude any evidence that Zehm had not committed a crime, and to exclude the testimony of two young women whose 911 call sparked the incident. Read that story here.
(The top picture of Treppiedi shows him at the scene of the police shooting death of Jason Poss last July.)
By Thomas Clouse
U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle didn’t have the kindest of responses Tuesday when a defense attorney representing Spokane police Office Karl F. Thompson, Jr. asked the judge to compel federal prosecutors to turn over the names, phone numbers and addresses of several witnesses who watched the confrontation with Otto Zehm (right).
Attorney Courtney Garcea, who is helping Carl Oreskovich represent Thompson, said she understood that the law does not require federal prosecutors to hand over that information, but that the matter did fall under the judge’s discretion.
“It is certainly reasonable that the United States be ordered to provide that information,” she said.
Van Sickle responded by saying that anyone who can operate a computer “would find this information within key strokes. Why can’t this be done by people working on behalf of the defense team?”
Garcea responded by saying the government has that information readily available and it would avoid the time necessary to find the addresses and phone numbers.
Van Sickle, who became more animated, said that information could have been found in the time it took Garcea to make the argument.
“I kind of scratch my head. Have you called the U.S. Attorney’s Office and asked for it?” he asked.
When Garcea replied no, he said: “Why didn’t you do it?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin said he would have responded to such a request by contacting the witnesses and inquiring whether they want to speak to the defense.
If so, he would have provided the information Garcea sought.
“It’s unfathomable to believe they don’t have the ability to track down the information,” Durkin said.
He pointed out that the Spokane Police Department took down every name, date of birth, address and phone number of the witnesses they interviewed at the convenience store on March 18, 2006, following the confrontation with Zehm who died two days later.
“They have a lot of resources and access to the information,” Durkin said. “This motion was designed to bog down the United States with briefings without any contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office at all.”
Oreskovich then got up and apologized to the judge. He explained that he has been unable to locate six witnesses.
“I’m not Internet proficient,” Oreskovich said. “My apologies to this court that I didn’t write a letter saying I couldn’t find these particular witnesses.”
Van Sickle ended the discussion by saying: “I don’t think (finding) six people would be an onerous project.”
The exchange came during a hearing in which Van Sickle denied Oreskovich’s request to dismiss a lying charge against Thompson.
Read the story here
Good morning, Netizens…
First, before I revisit the sordid tale of how Otto Zehm was killed by the Spokane Police Department, I’m going to point you in a direction which I feel everyone needs to read. First, browse to http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2010/apr/15/feds-testimony-altered/?documents and realizing that it is a large PDF document and because it will take a considerable amount of time to digest, brace yourself and download the PDF file to your computer.
While you are at it, you might also read Thomas Clouse’s excellent article in the Spokesman relating to what we, prior to this time, have suspected but lacking evidence, could never prove. Browse to http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2010/apr/15/feds-testimony-altered/ and take out your notebooks. There is a lot to be digested here.
Karl Thompson notwithstanding, there are a well-known cast of miscreants in the story listed above and especially in the PDF file. There are allegations of trickery, deception, outright lying and altered public records, and these are allegedly just the members of the Spokane Police Department. Then there is that despicable Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi, of whom it is alleged he directly ignored repeated attempts to obtain public records and perhaps may have even conspired with others to thwart the federal grand jury investigation. Read the PDF. It gets worse than that.
According to preliminary findings, there was no allegations of aggressive behavior shown by Otto Zehm against police. However, there is ample proof on the Zip Trip videotapes that police beat the crap out of Otto Zehm while he attempted to protect his head and face from repeated blows with a 2 liter Pepsi bottle. All he wanted was a candy bar and a bottle of pop. Instead he ended up dead.
Kudos to Mr. Clouse for going with this controversial story and to Jeanie for advising me while I was away at work. This all makes me even more hungry for the truth once the Grand Jury returns with an opinion.
Rest in Peace, Otto. At least., based upon the information we now have, you might actually have a chance at the justice you so richly deserve.
As I brought in the paper this morning, the first thing I see is the headline: “Zehm grand jury to hear evidence police changed testimony” (by Thomas Clouse). http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2010/apr/15/feds-testimony-altered/
When I first read about this incident, my initial thought was that something was fishy in the two women’s statements. I thought, and I think I’m correct, that they assumed Zehm was annoyingly happy and pesty. The cops assumed the pretty young women were being hit on and they didn’t like it and so the cops were going to “protect” these women and take care of this character. I felt that the cops had pre-assessed Zehm has a criminal to be taken down hard.
In the end - they screwed up horribly. And now we’re talking about cover up and is this a surprise to any of us???
Otto Zehm was the epitome of an innocent person, a child-like sweet individual. Would any one of us acted just exactly as he did if we were suddenly attacked by officers who we would normally have trusted? Can you imagine the incredulous fear he felt?
I am so sick of this.
- Otto Zehm
Newly filed documents reveal new details about the encounter with Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson (left) and other officers that led to Otto Zehm’s death.
Tom Clouse wrote an article explaining that allegations of a cover up by Spokane police officers over their handling of the fatal Otto Zehm confrontation and the department’s investigation of the case are being presented to a federal grand jury.
The ongoing obstruction of justice probe by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI includes indications that some Spokane police officers, including Assistant Chief Jim Nicks and lead detective Terry Ferguson, now are acknowledging that the city’s earlier characterizations of the fatal encounter were wrong and that its investigation was incomplete and inaccurate.
The new documents contain several details that didn’t make it into the story, including the revelation that Thompson and other officers were watching the Gonzaga men’s basketball team play a NCAA tournament game at an SPD substation when the Zehm call came in.
Thompson responded to the call because he “is originally from Los Angeles, lives in North Idaho, and had no interest in the GU game,” according to the documents.
Also in the documents, federal prosecutors question the financial status of Thompson that allowed him to successfully petition to have tax payers foot the bill for his defense.
Thompson filed for divorce in September 3 from his wife of 38 years after the $2.9 million civil suit was filed.
The divorce agreement called for her receiving “all interest” in the couple’s log home, which was listed for sale at $675,000, near Hayden.
The agreement also allows Thompson to remain in the home free of rent.
But some 18 months after the divorce decree, “the family home is no longer for sale and the defendant is reported to still reside at the home with his purported ex-wife,” according to the documents.
Four Spokane Police Department employees have been named as possible witnesses in the federal trial of an officer charged in the death of Otto Zehm (right).
Senior Police Officer Robert Boothe, Patrol Offier Jason Uberuaga, Detective Scott Lesser and Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks are listed in a document filed this week in U.S. District Court.
Boothe is the lead defensive tactics instructor for the Spokane Police Department and trained Thompson on the use of force. The document says Boothe “is qualified” to testify on a number of issues, including that “the firing of a taser at Otto Zehm, who was actively resistant but not actively assaultive, was objectively unreasonable and is contrary to the Department’s defensive tactics training, and violated Spokane Police Department policies.”
Uberuaga can testify that, among other things, “Officer Thompson also did not “stop” at any time to give his claimed verbal commands to Otto Zehm,” according to the documents.
Lesser is the police department’s certified Taser instructor. He’ll be able to testify that policy calls for tasers to be used only if a suspect is “displaying assaultive behavior toward the officer or other subjects,” according to court documents.
Nicks may testify that “Based on the security video, Otto Zehm did not take a boxing stance and/or throw punches at Officer Thompson in the south aisle. The objective video evidence is inconsistent with Officer Thompson’s statement to SPD investigators,” according to the documents.
Prosecutors also filed a detailed list of possible expert witnesses outside the police department.
Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich filed a list of witnesses today, too. They include: D.P. Van Blaricom, Daniel Davis, M.D.; Mark DeBard, M.D; James Nania, M.D; Gary Stimac, M.D; and Allen Tencer, PhD.
No details of their expected testimony were included in the filings.
Read the documents:
By Thomas Clouse
A federal judge ruled Thursday in favor of the city of Spokane and granted a motion brought by the attorneys for Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to obtain Otto Zehm’s mental health records from a 2000 stay at Eastern State Hospital.
However, U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle said he will wait until later to determine whether Thompson gets to use those mental health records in his defense during the trial, which is currently set for June 2.
“Officer Thompson is entitled to offer evidence – including information which he was unaware at the time of the confrontation – as long as the evidence tends to make his version of the confrontation more probable,” Van Sickle wrote in part. “Information in Mr. Zehm’s psychiatric records arguably satisfies that standard.”
Thompson’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich, last week argued that Zehm had been off his medication for paranoid schizophrenia for several weeks prior to his March 18, 2006, confrontation with Thompson. Therefore, Oreskovich said, Zehm, a 36-year-old janitor, was already exhibiting characteristics of “excited delirium” before Thompson confronted him.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin argued that excited delirium is not a medically recognized term and only is used by police agencies to describe otherwise unexplainable deaths by persons when they are being taken into custody.
Durkin said Thursday that he could not discuss the case, and Oreskovich could not be reached late Thursday for comment.
“At this stage in the proceedings, the Court does not rule on the admissibility of the evidence sought by Officer Thompson,” Van Sickle wrote. “If, in fact, Mr. Zehm behaved in a defiant and aggressive manner on March 18, 2006, due to a lack of medication, Officer Thompson may have been justified in using force to subdue him.”
Past coverage: Thompson’s defense wants Zehm’s medical records
Thursday was the fourth anniversary of the confrontation with Spokane police that led to unarmed shopper Otto Zehm’s death.
A gathering sponsored by the Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane took place at the Zip Trip, 1712 N. Division St., where Officer Karl Thompson confronted the 36-year-old, mentally ill janitor after two young women erroneously reported that he had stolen money from a nearby ATM. Read Tom Clouse’s story here.
The next day, Thompson appeared in U.S. District Court in downtown Spokane, where he faces felony charges of using unreasonable force and lying to investigators. His tiral is set for June 2.
Friday’s court appearances was for a motion hearing by Thompson’s lawyer seeking Zehm’s medical records from 2000, when Zehm went off his medications and had an episode that caused him to be involuntarily placed at Eastern State Hospital.
Lawyer Carl Oreskovich argues Zehm was suffering from “excited delirium” before his 2006 confrontation with police, making it a pre-existing mental condition that therefore justified the level of force used to detain him. A judge could rule on the request as early as this week.
Read Clouse’s story here.
Good morning, Netizens…
Photo Credit: Dr. John Olsen
Of the forty to sixty people present yesterday at the Zip Trip where Spokane Police Department killed Otto Zehm, less than a handful of those present actually knew the former janitor in life. In the four years and one day that have expired since that fateful day, despite representatives from both sides having retained legal counsel and clammed up, very little but the semantics has changed.
Some call the incident an altercation; others call it a confrontation. On the face of it, based upon the damning bit of videotape from the Zip Trip Store’s security cameras, Otto Zehm, who was armed only with a 1 liter plastic bottle of soda, never stood a chance of winning any confrontation with the Spokane Police Department that night. No, beaten to the floor into submission, and repeatedly beaten and tasered time after time on-camera and eventually choking to death on an anti-spit mask, he was apparently murdered by the very police force sworn to protect and serve him. That, too, is semantically a slip.
None of the linguistics, however, will ever change the fact that Otto Zehm died, an innocent in the face of unspeakable brutality, sloppy communication and poor administrative policies by the police.
What is the greater tragedy is that after four years and change, only a handful of Spokane citizens, for the most part strangers to Otto Zehm, showed up to remember his pitifully-short run at life. In an altruistically-perfect world, thousands of angry citizens should have showed up and clamored in one voice, demanding that this ugly affair be brought to closure, that the guilty parties in the murder of Otto Zehm be brought to trial, but that didn’t happen. The City of Spokane, that sweet-smelling unmalodorous piece of democratic justice in action, should be standing at our side demanding justice for Otto Zehm, but that has not happened either.
Liz Riley for the Peace, Justice and Action League (PJALS), for all her vast capabilities and administrative improvements, still has yet to learn that in order to hold a public demonstration, that she needs to inform the public well in advance, not just the same predictable members of PJALS.
In the Bible it states that Jesus wept. In Community Comment let history show that Dave stood and bawled his eyes out because only forty people showed up to protest the unwarranted death of an innocent man. Never forget Otto.
- Otto Zehm
Good morning, Netizens…
Lest anyone forget today is the fourth anniversary of the Otto Zehm murder at the hand of the Spokane Police Department, a date that not even the Spokesman-Review’s own Doug Clark could not willfully overlook here: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2010/mar/18/four-years-later-lets-not-forget-otto-zehm/
PJALS has sent out the following invitation to attend a demonstration which states, in part, Don’t forget about the vigil for Otto Zehm, Thursday, March 18 at 12:00 noon in front of the Zip Trip/Cenex at N. 1712 Division (just south of the White elephant).
Due to my “real day job” and the short notice given of this public event, unfortunately I will be unable to attend this important event.
Perhaps someone can sit down and write a cogent explanation of why Otto Zehm was killed. Thus far, in my opinion, all the information we have received from Acting Police Chief Jim Nicks simply does not hold up well to public scrutiny, and the Office of the Police Ombudsman lacks the proper authority to prosecute those involved.
I have been told that John Olsen will attend this event and perhaps get some pictures which will be uploaded as quickly as they arrive.
Local politics for the double 0’s, or whatever we call the last decade, started with a promise of a new millenium and a broken campaign promise. It ended of lots of zeroes behind red-hued numbers — the difference between what our governments expect to take in, and what they are scheduled to pay out.
In between, governments were re-arranged, ballots were recounted, politicians were recalled or forced to resign.
Here Spin Control’s quick look at the late, and probably not so lamented, decade in local politics:
2000: George Nethercutt breaks term limits pledge, wins re-election anyway.
2001: Spokane gets a new political structure.
2002: Spokane Valley incorporates.
2003: Jim West wins mayor job, loses it two years later.
2004: Chris Gregoire edges Dino Rossi.
2005: City settles River Park Square lawsuits.
2006: Otto Zehm’s fatal encounter.
2007: Bad year for “family values” types.
2008: Walt Minnick wins Idaho congressional seat.
2009: The budget blues.
For details, go inside the blog.
What’s in a word? When the word is “lunge”, it could be quite a bit.
That’s lunge the verb, as in the Spokane Police Department’s repeated insistence that Otto Zehm “lunged” at Officer Karl Thompson the night of March 18, 2006, in an altercation that led to Zehm being struck with a police baton, jolted with a Taser, handcuffed, hog-tied, going unconscious, slipping into a coma, being declared brain dead, and eventually dying.
That word was used by Acting Spokane Police Chief Jim Nicks the night of the altercation, who had been called to the scene.“The suspect lunged at the officer during the initial contact and basically a fight occurred at that time,” he told the assembled news media.
All the bad things that happened, it seemed, sprang from that lunge.
But Nicks wasn’t there when the altercation started…