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Otto Zehm


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

Double Zeroes gone, not forgotten

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…

Courthouse watch: 9.23.09

The ailing mother of a man who died after being struck, Tasered and hogtied by Spokane police officers should have a chance to have her statement preserved for a civil lawsuit even though a criminal trial is pending, a federal judge ruled today.

U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko refused to grant a request by federal prosecutors to halt all discovery in a separate civil suit involving the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.

Read the rest of Jim Camden’s story in tomorrow’s Spokesman-Review

New evidence surfacing in Otto Zehm case…

Good afternoon, Netizens…

I’m only going to say this once because I loathe making predictions when I do not know beyond a reasonable question of a doubt whether or not what I am saying is factual and honest. However, having read the Spokesman-Review this morning, both on and offline, and having contemplated the facts such as have been presented to me, coupled with a number of very interesting phone calls to verify even more facts, I can state beyond a question of a doubt that we, the citizens of Spokane, were deliberately and maliciously lied to by various Spokane Police Department officials and officers about Otto Zehm’s murder.

I will go one step further to state that, were it not for the federal agencies investigating Otto Zehm’s death, were it not for their diligence in uncovering the facts surrounding Zehm’s death, the universal rug sweeper which has been used by the Spokane Police Department in the past to hide some of their more unsavory acts would have long ago buried the facts about Zehm’s death far below public sight.

Police Chief Kirkpatrick needs to get a rug sweeper of her own and begin cleaning the Department. There has to be an end to abuses of power and authority, and she is either part of the solution or just another part of an increasingly-large problem at the highest levels of law enforcement in the City of Spokane. I believe she has the values and morals to perform such a task, but she is going up against the Police Guild, and that could be a real nightmare for her both administratively and professionally.

Rocky Treppiedi might be from Brooklyn and purportedly an award-winning lawyer, but he just broke what I believe to be an unspoken rule: Grand Jury testimony is privileged and sacred. If you hear information or testimony in a Grand Jury hearing, regardless of who your clients are, you are forbidden from passing that information onward. (Ruling courtesy of Gonzaga Law School Library). Of course, I believe Mr. Treppiedi has been known to bend more than a few laws in the past. Why would he change now?

Even our sometimes-lackluster State or Federal Prosecutors cannot turn blind eyes once the FBI begin bringing their case to the public’s attention. Perhaps, just perhaps, there might not be any cops in the court room high-fiving one another once the criminal trial is finished on Otto Zehm’s death.

Honesty and integrity in high places in the Police Department has been one helluva long time coming. Maybe we are getting closer.


Feds in Zehm case critical of Treppiedi

Federal prosecutors have grown increasingly critical of what they describe as questionable behavior by the Spokane Police Department’s chief legal adviser, who reportedly used his position to provide “traditionally confidential” information to the officer under FBI investigation following the fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm.

In documents filed recently in U.S. District Court, prosecutors describe a pattern of behavior by Assistant Spokane City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi (pictured right, and above at the scene of an officer-involved shooting in July) that raises questions about whether the city actively sought to interfere with the federal investigation that led to a grand jury indictment of Officer Karl F. Thompson.

Treppiedi disputes any suggestion that he has acted improperly. Read the rest of Thomas Clouse’s story here.

In this 2007 profile by Bill Morlin and Karen Dorn Steele, Treppiedi is described by friends as zealous and effective, and by foes as hostile to open government and blind to police misconduct.

Thompson supporters rally on Facebook

 The evolution of Facebook over the years, particularly the last six months or so, has been astonishing.

When I learned of the social networking web site in 2004, it was reserved for students at specific universities.

An email address ending an .edu was required, and group pages were reserved for encouraging your least favorite professor to retire or admiring a friend’s mother.

Now, everyone and their mother is on Facebook, and groups have become gathering places for supporters of civic movements, political causes, and even judicial defense.

Case in point, Thomas Clouse’s story today on a Facebook page for supporters of Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson, who faces federal charges for his role in an encounter with Otto Zehm. Read Clouse’s story here.

Public To Pay Zehm Cop Defense

Spokane Police officer Karl Thompson (with silver hair) talks friends and supporters outside the Federal Courthouse in Spokane where he appeared today to answer charges in the Otto Zehm case. (Jesse Tinsley/SR)

But during the short arraignment, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin objected to the defense request to appoint Oreskovich as Thompson’s attorney, noting that Thompson makes about $80,000 a year – counting overtime – and owns a $675,000 home, which is listed in his wife’s name, in Hayden. But Imbrogno said she carefully studied the private documents submitted by Thompson’s attorneys and ruled that he is indigent, freeing the way for public funds to pay for his defense. “I am very satisfied that Mr. Thompson qualifies for court-appointed counsel,” Imbrogno said/Thomas Clouse, SR. More here.

Question: Do you think the public should pay for Spokane officer Karl Thompson’s defense when he earns around $80,000 per year and has a $675K home?

Public to Pay for Thompson’s Defense

Officer ruled indigent despite $675,000 home

It’s official.  We, the people, will pay through the nose for the SPD’s blundering.

I make a third of what Thompson makes and my $50,000 home is paid for.  However, maybe I should go out and buy a home worth two-thirds of a million dollars and put it in my wife’s name and then offer up the excuse that I am indigent.

Indigent means “poor, needy, impoverished, poverty-stricken, penniless, destitute.” Do you really think someone who lives in a $675,000 home is destitute? Well, maybe if he didn’t make any money. It’s not my fault he bought a home way beyond his needs!

O – I know why I can’t get away with this. I don’t have a wife!



The rush to judgment…

Good morning, Netizens…

I was impressed with the lengthy story in the Spokesman-Review about Karl F. Thompson, Jr.’s career in law enforcement. Several prior glowing statements notwithstanding by Chief Ann Kirkpatrick regarding his 37 years of service to law enforcement, there are few people who would contest my statement that Thompson has been a professional lawmen of incredible acumen and skill for most of his adult life. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Justice Studies and has attended the FBI Academy. If there is a poster child for the Spokane Police Department, Karl Thompson probably ranks right up near the top of the list.

Until he beat Otto Zehm senseless in the Zip Trip store and was later indicted by the Grand Jury, that is.

However, none of the allegations mean he is guilty until he receives a fair trial on the two charges he currently faces.

The convoluted trail of evidence, including the rest of the videotape from the Zip Trip store, other witnesses to the events that took place there and of course, the tearful history of the end of Otto Zehm’s life, which is what this is all about.

Or is it? Is Karl F. Thompson, Jr. the poster child of the Spokane Police Department he appears to be, or is he the unfortunate victim of flawed training programs which all Spokane Police Officers study?

I will say more about this later today, as I feel before we rush to commit judgment on Thompson, we need to understand the rationale behind his behavior.


Is Thompson taking one for the Gipper too?


Good morning, Netizens…

Everyone in the Spokane News Media yesterday were separately and yet together beating their spoons against the bars that, until then, had kept the news media from truly knowing what was going on in the Otto Zehm murder investigation. For nearly two years all anyone in Spokane knew for fact was that Otto Zehm died at the hands of the police, and that there were horrid pictures of Karl F. Thompson, Jr. wailing on Zehm with his nightstick while Zehm lay on the floor; meanwhile we have the squad of officers standing outside the Zip Trip in the aftermath.

Then last Friday Howard F. Delaney, City Attorney and Rocco N. Treppiedi, his Assistant, filed a response to a civil lawsuit brought against the City of Spokane by the Center for Justice, who represent Otto Zehm’s mother in a lawsuit claiming Zehm’s civil rights were violated because of the unlawful use of deadly force in apprehending him, and in the city’s subsequent actions to “falsely portray” Zehm as the aggressor in the encounter. (Portions from the Center for Justice’s website.)

Yesterday, a day that will live long past this time in Spokane history, Federal Prosecutor Jim McDevitt made public the grand jury indictment. In it two felony indictments against police officer Karl F. Thompson, Jr. were unfurled before the news media that on or about March 18, 2006, Karl F. Thompson not only beat Zehm viciously with his baton and tasering him, thus inflicting bodily injury to Zehm, and (count 2) that on March 27, 2006, Thompson then knowingly gave false testimony to investigators.

You can read the entire indictment here again, courtesy of the Center for Justice.

According to McDevitt’s statements at the press conference, the reference to giving false testimony refers to a lengthy interview of Thompson by an investigating Spokane Police Department detective whose name was not mentioned.

“What it looks like in hindsight,” the Center for Justice’s Breean Beggs said, when asked about it Monday, “is that the city knew this indictment was coming and did its best to get out a public relations story, trashing Otto, in the papers before readers knew about the indictment.”

As in nearly all cases of this stature, until Karl Thompson’s trial, there have been more unanswered questions to be resolved than there are hard answers. For example:

Given this was a sealed Grand Jury indictment, when were the Spokane City Attorneys told of its contents? Was it before what I believe to be the ill-fated, defamatory and false counter-suit against the Zehm family? It would seem so, given Rocco Treppiedi’s long and illuminating history of counter-suing anyone who files a claim against the City of Spokane, that seems credible enough. Do we know enough to prove it? No.

References are made to an investigator for the Spokane Police Department who interviewed Thompson which resulted in Count Two of the indictment. Of course, until Thompson’s trial, we may never know the named of this brave soul who probably sacrificed his career in the SPD in exchange for justice.

If the second count of the indictment is upheld by the court trial, yesterday why did Police Chief Ann Kirkpatrick wax euphorically about what a good cop Thompson has been for 37 years? Is she blithering daffy or simply trying to muster her troops under fire? Which is it?

If you have read the Center for Justice’s web link (above) then you know Karl F. Thompson, Jr. is facing some pretty serious jail time if convicted of the two felonies. Along the path between now and trial, it could make or break the careers of several local attorneys. There are a lot more questions than answers, but what remains to be seen is can the Spokane Police Department learn from their mistakes and restore the public’s trust? 

That seems to be most of the issues that leap out at me.

Portions of this text and the picture of McDevitt all courtesy of The Center for Justice ( with our gracious thanks.


Officer Indicted In Otto Zehm Death

Item: SPD officer indicted in Otto Zehm death/Thomas Clouse, SR

More Info: A federal grand jury has indicted the first officer who responded to a confrontation with mentally ill janitor Otto Zehm, which resulted in Zehm’s death and sparked a cry for citizen police oversight. U.S. Attorney James McDevitt announced that the grand jury has indicted veteran Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson, who was the first of seven officers to confront Zehm, a 36-year-old janitor who had schizophrenia. Zehm died two days after he was beaten with a baton, shocked multiple times with a Taser and hogtied inside the Zip Trip at 1712 N. Division St.

Question: In the comments section, HMOffsuite posts and link to this story and comments: “It looks like Otto Zehm may receive the justice that he deserves.” Do you agree with that assessment?

Officer Karl Thompson indicted in Otto Zehm case

Good afternoon, Netizens…


Office Karl Thompson has been indicted for various charges, including making false statements in the Otto Zehm case it was announced at 3:00 PM today by US Attorney Jim McDevitt. Details to follow.


City wants Zehm case kicked; CFJ calls it ‘blame the victim’

Creates a legal pleading

Otto Zehm is responsible for the events that led up to his death while in police custody, the City of Spokane said Friday as it asked a federal court Friday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Zehm’s mother.

A 56-page response to the civil rights claim by Ann Zehm offers previously unreleased – and, according to her lawyer irrelevant – information about a 1990 altercation between Otto Zehm and a county sheriff’s deputy. It also includes a description that Zehm was “on something” which was not in the transcript of the tape of the 911 call released by the city in 2006.

“Otto Zehm knew or should have know that he was being detained by a peace officer and had the duty to refrain from using force to resist such detention,” the city contends in its response, prepared by assistant city attorney Rocco Treppeidi and private attorney Carl Oreskovich, who is under contract with the city for assistance on the Zehm case and represents one of the officers named in the suit. “Any injury or damage suffered by Mr. Zehm was caused solely by reason of his conduct and willful resistance.”

Breean Beggs of the Center for Justice, who is representing Ann Zehm, said the court filing is typical of the city’s overall response on the Zehm case: “They’re doing the classic ‘blame the victim’ tactic.”

Otto Zehm Died for our sins…

Good afternoon Netizens…

By now most of you reading this already have heard the City of Spokane asked a federal court Friday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Otto Zehm over his death in police custody in March 2006, saying the developmentally disabled janitor, not police, is responsible for his own death. Does this come as a surprise to anyone?

After all, when you have the likes of Rocco Treppeidi arguing for the City of Spokane against the Zehm estate, I’m frankly astounded Treppeidi didn’t already file a lawsuit against Otto Zehm’s estate, as if there was anything to take.

Which farce would you like? We have the farce where sworn police officers referred to a 2 liter bottle of Pepsi in Otto Zehm’s hands as a “legal weapon”. Yeah, sure. Got a permit for your Pepsi?

We have the farce of the circumstances themselves, where when confronted by officers at the Zip Trip, Zehm refused their orders to stop and to drop the two-liter bottle of soda he was holding. When he refused officers’ orders, he was struck with a baton, jolted with a Taser, handcuffed and hog-tied. Oh yes, and then, the ultimate farce, when he was choked to death by a mask that did not have an airway.

This sordid affair smacks of BS, a pile of crap and it is time for the City of Spokane Police Department to admit their culpability and make amends, not file for dismissal.

Do you believe, for a minute, that Otto Zehm was responsible for his own death?


Man in coma after Seattle Police tackle…

Good morning, Netizens…

In a Seattle police case gone tragically wrong on May 10, Christopher Harris, a 29 year-old restaurant worker still is in a coma in Seattle after police mistakenly pushed him head-first into a wall outside a theater. The entire event was caught on video but now police state Harris’ life-threatening injuries do not seem to be criminal in nature.

Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Paul, 26, gave Harris a “hard shove” that apparently fell within legal boundaries, knocking him head-first into a concrete wall Sgt. John Urquhart of the Sheriff’s Department stated, “”We look at this as a tragic accident; nothing more than that…”

Attorney Sim Osborne, hired by Harris’ family, characterized the incident in various other ways, calling it, “… a bone-crushing hit,” Osborn said, likening it to a linebacker’s hit on a football field. He called the deputy’s action “horribly brutal” at best and potentially a criminal assault. Osborne goes on to add there was conflicting testimony whether the police officers involved in the chase identified themselves, as they were both wearing black tactical uniforms under dark conditions.

Urquhart said investigators don’t know why Harris ran, but they noted that four witnesses, including the woman who misidentified Harris, said they heard the deputies repeatedly yell “stop, police” or “police officers.”

“Sometimes bad things happen to good people,” Urquhart said. “That’s what happened in this case.”

Harris, who grew up in Seattle and Olympia and attended the Seattle Art Institute, was married about a year ago, according to his stepfather. Harris worked as a server at Arnies Restaurant in Edmonds.

Although Sheriff’s Deputy Paul has been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation, he could be returned to active duty any time.

[Portions from Seattle Times]


The Zehm lawsuit

Good afternoon Netizens…

It has taken me awhile to figure out how to upload this PDF copy of the Zehm lawsuit, then to make it accessible, but it does appear I was successful.

 This represents justice for Otto, the first justice he has had since he was killed.


Otto Zehm case draws to a close?

Good morning, Netizens…

Otto Zehm died for our sins. At least the cherubic-faced janitor died for something, of that we can be certain. But did he die unlawfully, due to excessive use of force at the hands of the Spokane City Police Department? After nearly 3 years of contention, discussion and rumors of litigation, we do not seem to be any closer to closure in the case of Otto Zehm than we were, and yet are we?

The Spokesman-Review’s Bill Morlin takes a long look at this case here and discusses the various legal aspects of this case, which has so divided our community.

What remains to be seen is why it has taken this long to bring this case to a close. There are rumors that civil action is about to take place, and other rumors that criminal action may take place. It all depends upon who you believe, who you trust. The facts are that on March 18, 2006 Otto Zehm died at the hands of the Spokane Police Department. Shortly thereafter, Deputy Chief Al Odenthal, resigned on December 19, 2006. Can you call this a coincidence?

Were it not for the Center for Justice ( we probably would never reach any resolution in the Otto Zehm case. Were the fate of Otto Zehm left in the hands of the Spokane Police Department, nothing would have been done, for they are not in search of the truth.

It is time for the case of Otto Zehm to reach closure NOW.