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Timothy Moses pleads guilty to lying in Otto Zehm case

Defense attorney Chris Bugbee, left, speaks Tuesday about Spokane police Officer Tim Moses, seated, and his involvement in the Otto Zehm case. (Colin Mulvany)
Defense attorney Chris Bugbee, left, speaks Tuesday about Spokane police Officer Tim Moses, seated, and his involvement in the Otto Zehm case. (Colin Mulvany)

Spokane police Officer Timothy Moses pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to federal agents in 2009 as they investigated the fatal confrontation between his friend, Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., and Otto Zehm.

The plea was part of a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that allowed Moses to avoid a federal perjury charge but ensured that he never again works in law enforcement.

The plea came less than two years after Moses proclaimed under oath, “I don’t lie,” when he was legally forced to testify at Thompson’s 2011 trial.

Municipal Judge Mary Logan sentenced Moses to 12 months probation and a $2,500 fine. As part of the plea, Moses agreed to not seek work as a police officer.

Dressed in a civilian sport coat, Moses said “guilty” in a hushed tone in a courtroom half-filled with his family and supporters, including former FBI agent, Navy Seal and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Thomas Norris, whose actions in Vietnam were portrayed in the book and movie “Bat 21.”

“I believe I served this community well,” Moses said of his 15-year law enforcement career in Spokane. “My integrity has never been negotiable.”

With his guilty plea, Moses admitted that he first told a grand jury Thompson relayed to him on the night of the incident that he struck Zehm in the head with a baton and that Zehm lunged, provoking the attack.

Some 10 months later, after speaking to Thompson, Moses tried to change his testimony and said he was intimidated into giving that earlier version of events to the FBI.

Zehm, a 36-year-old mentally ill janitor who had not committed a crime, died after a violent confrontation with Spokane police in March 2006. Thompson was convicted in 2011 of using excessive force and lying to investigators about the incident.

Defense attorney Chris Bugbee said Moses had already turned in his resignation letter to the Spokane Police Department.

Bugbee spoke at length, saying his client didn’t lie but rather caved in to the pressure of saying things he actually didn’t remember.

“This is a very good man who was an outstanding police officer,” Bugbee said. “His career, though honorable until now, doesn’t exactly end that way. He has support in law enforcement despite what happened.”

Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Brian O’Brien remained silent on sentencing.

Logan noted Moses’ public service, which included eight years as a police officer in Georgia.

“This has taken a very long time … with much loss on everyone’s behalf,” Logan said. “You are precluded from doing that which you are most trained to do … by your own hand.”

Moses’ wife told the judge she’s been married to the officer for 26 years and they have two children.

“He is a loyal family man. Is he perfect? No. None of us are,” she said. “The entire unfortunate event has created hardships on many lives.”

Moses’ brother, Keith Moses – an FBI agent in Memphis – largely blamed media coverage for his brother’s situation.

Moses’ father, Cecil Moses, who retired after 32 years in the FBI, said he and his three sons have more than 120 years combined of law enforcement service.

“I’m here to simply ask for mercy,” Cecil Moses said. “Tim has been a good officer. I’m very proud of him.”

Bugbee said Moses has already had a difficult time finding work. “Just Google his name,” he said of Moses. “He’s not going to be well-thought-of by employers.”

Bugbee also pointed out that his client’s testimony ended up helping prosecutors convict Thompson, who was sentenced in November to 51 months in federal prison.

The defense attorney noted jury forewoman Diane Riley told The Spokesman-Review in 2011 that the case turned when prosecutors compelled Moses to testify.

“We were all on the fence until Tim Moses took the stand. That man gave everything away,” Riley said.

Moses said he agreed to plead guilty “to allow this unfortunate incident in 2006 to finally be put to rest.” He added, “I hope this brings some closure to the Zehm family.”

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