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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rally marks anniversary of Zehm altercation

40 demonstrate at site of police confrontation

About 40 people chanted and held signs Thursday to remember the fourth anniversary of the confrontation with Spokane police that left unarmed shopper Otto Zehm fatally injured.

The gathering was sponsored by the Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane 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.

Several signs reflected the group’s sentiments: “Mary Verner: Protect the people not the police,” “Never Again” and “Hold Spokane Police Accountable.”

“What makes me infuriated is seeing the city’s legal argument that Otto’s own actions caused his death,” said Liz Moore, of PJALS. “What action? That he wanted a soda? Or was it that he wanted a Snickers? It’s disturbing … to see our tax dollars being used to make these horrendous and offensive legal arguments.”

Thompson faces a felony trial in federal court in May after he was charged with using unreasonable force and lying to investigators following the March 18, 2006, confrontation.

Thompson was the first officer to arrive at the scene and began hitting Zehm with a police baton and jolted him with a Taser. Six more officers later arrived and joined the struggle in which they hogtied Zehm. He stopped breathing after a plastic mask was placed over his face, and he never regained consciousness before dying on March 20.

For months after the confrontation, police officials maintained their story that Zehm lunged at Thompson. But video surveillance later showed Zehm retreating; only then did police officials acknowledged that their previous comments were incorrect.

A civil suit brought by public interest law firm Center for Justice has been put on hold until the criminal case against Thompson concludes.