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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Zehm detective feared reaction to video

Detectives fed Thompson information on probe

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 made public.

Meanwhile, others within the department were funneling key information about the case to Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. while he remained the target of a criminal investigation, the records say.

The information is contained in the March 11, 2009, grand jury testimony of Detective Jeff Harvey, who at the time was a vice president of the Spokane Police Guild. The transcript was released this week by a federal prosecutor in advance of Thompson’s scheduled Nov. 15 sentencing on charges of using excessive force and lying to investigators. Zehm died after the violent confrontation.

Former Detective Terry Ferguson, the lead investigator, acknowledged the video showing Thompson beating the mentally disabled Zehm with a baton would cause a strong reaction, Harvey told the grand jury.

“And then she goes on to explain that … because of the potential public reaction she was glad that Zehm was Caucasian and not black,” Harvey testified.

Ferguson said Thompson’s explanation of the incident “was instrumental in explaining why the situation developed as it did,” Harvey testified.

After Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker did not charge Thompson based on Ferguson’s findings, federal investigators took up the case and indicted Thompson in June 2009.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin has asked U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to sentence the decorated former officer to 10 years in federal prison, while Thompson’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich, has asked the judge to consider no jail time.

In an argument filed Monday, Oreskovich wrote that the officer did not intend “to cause Mr. Zehm bodily injury” despite evidence of 13 strikes by a baton.

Durkin, in a response also filed Monday, said Oreskovich’s arguments amount to “revisionist, historical fiction.”

Durkin also included the 27-page testimony of Harvey, who told the grand jury that Thompson emailed police union officials within days of the 2006 incident and asked them to research deaths involving a condition commonly called excited delirium.

Harvey also told the grand jury about a conversation he had with Thompson a few weeks after the incident, in which he related to Thompson what he knew about the investigators’ progress.

“You briefed (Thompson) about the information that you had learned about the autopsy and video,” Durkin told Harvey at the grand jury. “Mr. Thompson explained that he had already spoken with Sergeant (Joe) Peterson and was briefed on the autopsy results. Is that correct?”

“Correct,” Harvey responded.

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