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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Doug Clark: Many wrongs, one big right in Zehm case
May 17, 2012 in City on Page A5 Repentance is a concept normally relegated to cathedrals, chapels and bar stools just before closing time. But on Tuesday afternoon, a downtown mediation court was the sanctuary where the city … 24
Why city chose to blame Zehm remains unexplained
May 16, 2012 in City on Page A1 Spokane city leaders finally are admitting that mistakes were made during a 2006 police confrontation that led to the death of Spokane resident Otto Zehm. But it remains unclear if … 32
Otto Zehm family reaches settlement with Spokane
May 16, 2012 in City on Page A1 The family of Otto Zehm will get the apology they sought for more than six years as Spokane city officials agreed Tuesday to settle a civil lawsuit against nine police … 49
Settlement in Zehm civil suit reached
May 15, 2012 in City, News A $1.67 million out-of-court settlement has been reached in the civil suit against Spokane police filed by relatives of Otto Zehm, the mentally ill janitor who died following a violent … 42
Prosecutor compiling list of discredited officers
May 8, 2012 in City, News Spokane law enforcement officials for the first time are compiling a list of officers and deputies who have a record of lying or who have been discredited while doing their … 42
Mediation set in Zehm case against Spokane Police
May 1, 2012 in City, News A federal judge has set a two-day mediation session to settle the $14.5 million civil suit filed against nine Spokane Police officers by the mother and estate of Otto Zehm. 9
Doug Clark: Rocky days at City Hall finally over
April 17, 2012 in City on Page A5 Who the heck is this David Condon? First he pulls off an unbelievable run from a waaaaay distant second-place primary finish to upend Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and snatch her … 9
City attorney fires Treppiedi
April 17, 2012 in City on Page A1 The architect of Spokane City Hall’s controversial handling of the fatal police confrontation with Otto Zehm was fired Monday, marking the latest fallout from the excessive force case that already … 104
Otto Zehm case: Police chief says ‘mistakes made’
April 13, 2012 in City on Page A1 For the first time, a high-ranking Spokane police official has publicly acknowledged that the department made troubling mistakes while investigating the 2006 confrontation that killed Otto Zehm. Interim Chief Scott … 50
Police chief acknowleges mistakes in Zehm investigation
April 12, 2012 in City, News For the first time, a high-ranking Spokane police official has publicly acknowledged that the department made troubling mistakes while investigating the 2006 confrontation that killed Otto Zehm. In his most … 44
Doug Clark: Layer after layer, Zehm investigation stinks
Transcripts reveal officers were given three days to file Zehm report
April 8, 2012 in City on Page B1 Newly released documents show Spokane police officers involved in the deadly altercation with Otto Zehm were given three days to think about the incident before writing reports detailing the 2006 … 85
Feds dispute misconduct allegations in Zehm case
March 31, 2012 in City on Page A1 The U.S. attorney’s office on Friday said allegations of prosecutorial misconduct by a forensic videographer – charges that have indefinitely stalled the sentencing of former Spokane police Officer Karl F. … 20
Feds: Misconduct claims in Zehm trial meritless
March 30, 2012 in City, News The forensic videographer, whose allegations of prosecutorial misconduct have indefinitely stalled the sentencing of former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson, Jr., is depicted in new court documents as an … 16
Former chief blasts Thompson salute
March 30, 2012 in City on Page A5 Former Seattle police Chief Norm Stamper told a Spokane crowd Thursday that he wasn’t knowledgeable enough about the city’s most infamous case of recent police misconduct to offer much meaningful … 17
Charges expected against two more Spokane officers
March 22, 2012 in City, News Federal obstruction charges are expected to be filed soon against two more Spokane Police officers in connection with the city’s handling of the Otto Zehm investigation, which U.S. Department of … 49
Doug Clark: Justice for Otto Zehm is close at hand
March 20, 2012 in City on Page A5 Four or five other customers were ahead of me when I sauntered into the convenience store on Sunday’s sunny afternoon. No worries. Despite the Zip Trip name on the signage, … 16
Karl Thompson seeks new trial in Otto Zehm case
March 20, 2012 in City on Page A5 Former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. wants a new trial because an expert witness now claims a federal prosecutor bullied him, and he alleges for the first time … 65
Condon fires city attorney
March 2, 2012 in City on Page A1 In the biggest shakeup of his administration yet, Spokane Mayor David Condon on Thursday fired City Attorney Howard Delaney following worsening criticism of the legal office’s handling of a series … 81
Spokane Mayor Condon fires City Attorney Delaney
March 1, 2012 in City, News Spokane City Attorney Howard Delaney, under fire for his handling of the Otto Zehm case and more recently its negotiated settlement to rehire an alcoholic police sergeant who fled from … 115