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
Zehm detective feared reaction to video
Oct. 24, 2012 in City on Page A5 Previously sealed records show that the lead Spokane Police detective investigating an officer’s confrontation with Otto Zehm believed the convenience store security video of the incident would be “inflammatory” if … 58
Zehm family tells judge of loss
Oct. 17, 2012 in City on Page A5 Otto Zehm’s mother fears going outside of her assisted-living home because of what Spokane police did to her only son, according to letters released Tuesday in federal court. Otto Zehm’s … 37
Attorney seeks no jail for Thompson
Prosecutors seek 10 years
Oct. 6, 2012 in City on Page B1 Federal prosecutors asked a federal judge late Friday to sentence former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to 10 years in federal prison for using excessive force on Otto … 65
Feds seek 10 years in prison for Thompson
Oct. 5, 2012 in City Federal prosecutors asked a federal judge late today to sentence former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to 10 years in federal prison for using excessive force on Otto … 43
Officers cleared in every case of excessive force since 2007
Sept. 23, 2012 in City on Page B1 Internal affairs investigators for the Spokane Police Department have sided with officers accused of brutality and excessive force in every single complaint filed by citizens over the past five years, … 94
Judge sets Thompson sentencing for Nov. 15
Sept. 22, 2012 in City on Page A5 Former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. will finally be sentenced, more than a year after he was convicted of using excessive force and lying about his confrontation with … 8
Thompson sentencing set for Nov. 15
Former officer Thompson’s request for new trial rejected
Sept. 19, 2012 in City on Page A1 A federal judge refused Tuesday to order a new trial for former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., saying last year’s convictions for beating an unarmed janitor in 2006 … 29
Judge denies new trial for Thompson
Zehm defense presents case for retrial
Sept. 1, 2012 in City on Page B3 Carl Oreskovich argued Friday that former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. should receive a new trial because federal prosecutors hid information from the defense that could have won … 19
Board approves Zehm memorial
Aug. 10, 2012 in City on Page A5 Otto Zehm will be honored on the picnic shelter in Mission Park. The Spokane Park Board voted unanimously on Thursday to accept the recommendation of Mayor David Condon to honor … 6
Thompson case: Juror claimed orders were ignored
Aug. 10, 2012 in City on Page A1 The alternate juror who claimed last year’s trial of former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. was marred by jury misconduct was unable to provide any specific examples of … 49
Clark: Thompson juror deserves kudos for speaking out
Juror speaks out against Thompson attorney
Aug. 8, 2012 in City on Page A1 The forewoman of the jury that convicted former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. of using excessive force said in a letter to a federal judge that defense attorneys … 39
Juror claims Thompson attorneys twisted words
Aug. 7, 2012 in City The forewoman of the jury that convicted former Spokane Police officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. of excessive force said in a letter to a federal judge that defense attorneys have … 55
Thompson jury query to be opened
July 27, 2012 in City on Page A5 The secretive query of jurors who convicted former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. will be made public after a federal judge decided Thursday to unseal court records. U.S. … 33
Judge unseals Zehm records from secret hearings
July 26, 2012 in City A federal judge today opened the court files that he sealed regarding secret hearings held in Yakima to query jurors who convicted former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. … 55
Feds oppose delays to Thompson’s prison term
July 10, 2012 in City on Page A5 Federal prosecutors appear to be growing frustrated with the ongoing delays that have kept convicted Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. out of prison. Eight months have passed since … 51
Park Board to consider Zehm memorial for Mission Park
July 8, 2012 in City on Page B1 The Spokane Park Board will consider a memorial for Otto Zehm on Monday, as was called for in a settlement between the city and Zehm’s estate. Mayor David Condon has … 7