Feds dispute misconduct allegations in Zehm case
Sat., March 31, 2012
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. Thompson Jr. – are meritless and claimed the man lied about how he first became involved in the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed filed scores of pages Friday detailing the pretrial and post-trial dealings with forensic video expert Grant Fredericks, who approached U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle with concerns only after a jury convicted Thompson in November of using excessive force and lying to investigators to cover up the fatal 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm.
“Now that the full extent of Fredericks’s opinions has been revealed, there simply is no merit to … concern that any ‘exculpatory’ evidence was withheld,” Ahmed wrote.
The court records Friday came in response to a request filed this month by Thompson’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich, seeking a new trial based on Fredericks’ claims that Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin and FBI agent Lisa Jangaard misrepresented his conclusions after he was hired to evaluate a convenience store security video that shows Thompson confronting Zehm.
Zehm, a mentally ill 36-year-old janitor, was hit with a baton, shocked with a Taser and hog-tied before he stopped breathing. He died two days later.
Fredericks became intertwined with the Zehm case in 2006 when Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi paid Fredericks, a former Vancouver, B.C., police officer, to analyze the video. Before he completed that work, he called then-Detective Terry Ferguson and indicated his report would include “no liability to the city,” court records state.
Later the same year, federal authorities hired Fredericks to do essentially the same video analysis after they challenged several of his assertions, including Fredericks’ claim that the video didn’t show any baton strikes for the first minute and 13 seconds.
During those initial meetings, Fredericks told federal investigators that he first became involved after he received a request from Jack Driscoll, chief deputy Spokane County prosecutor. But federal authorities now believe Fredericks wasn’t being completely truthful, and have learned that he had actively encouraged the city to hire him as an expert analyst by promising favorable conclusions.
Records filed Friday by Jangaard show that federal prosecutors called Officer John McGregor, who previously had professional dealings with Fredericks, to testify before the grand jury that eventually indicted Thompson in 2009.
McGregor testified that “it was actually Fredericks who initiated contact with the SPD and made an unsolicited offer to ‘help’ the SPD after viewing media portions of the Zip Trip video,” Jangaard wrote.
McGregor also told the grand jury that Fredericks said it was “his belief … that the video depicted the ‘two-liter pop bottle being used as a weapon,’ ” Jangaard wrote. “It was this observation … ‘triggered (Fredericks) to want to get involved in helping the police.’ ”
The same officer’s testimony also shed more light on the role Treppiedi played in the Zehm case and other criminal investigations. McGregor said it’s common for “favorable experts” to be paid by the city’s Risk Management Division.
“McGregor further testified that Rocky Treppiedi is involved with the SPD’s criminal investigations because Treppiedi is ‘the man that makes the decision as to how to protect the police department and what course of action to take,’ ” Jangaard wrote.
Fredericks wrote to Judge Van Sickle in December and said he was “very concerned” about the way federal prosecutors had summarized his potential testimony and that he was afraid the summary may have been “used to influence the Court. If the Court believed that this was my evidence, if the defense believed that this was my evidence … there would be a miscarriage of justice.”
Fredericks contends that the prosecution’s summary indicating that he agreed that the convenience store security video showed the first two baton strikes was incorrect, despite his testimony to a grand jury indicating that the motions shown on the video were consistent with “the swinging motion of a baton.”
Fredericks acknowledged that he was aware federal prosecutors had publicly summarized his expected testimony two years prior to the trial last fall in Yakima that ended with Thompson’s conviction.
“Fredericks explained that he did not feel compelled to inform the Government of his concerns at that time or at any time prior to the Defendant’s trial,” Ahmed wrote. “Rather, Fredericks explained that he simply planned to correct any perceived inaccuracies in the document while testifying … at the trial itself.”
But neither the prosecution nor the defense called Fredericks, de
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