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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: Thompson verdict is the gift that keeps on taking

Doug Clark
Doug Clark

Think of the post-conviction phase of Karl Thompson as a big, colorful piñata that his Scheme Team defenders get to whack and whack at until it finally bursts open and a new trial spills out.

And the worst part of this bad dream?

We civilians are paying for it.

Unfortunately, it’s true.

We’ve been footing the bill for Thompson’s pricey (imaginative, creative, preposterous …) defense since way before the trial, when a magistrate blessed the Spokane police officer with a pauper’s status.

Wink. Wink.

I almost choked after reading how the ex-Spokane cop’s lawyers sucked $564,000 from a federal defense fund – and that’s just for their efforts before and during his trial.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals won’t reveal how much the rest of this nonsense will cost us until the case is over.

I can’t blame them. Releasing numbers this high could cause heart attacks and panic in the streets.

The only redeeming part of this soap opera is that the piñata has held up.

On Tuesday, the Scheme Team’s latest attempt to rewrite reality was thwarted by a panel of three federal judges. The twin guilty verdicts rendered against Thompson must stand, they ruled.

This is the best news since that fall day in 2011.


A federal jury in Yakima decided that Thompson must pay for his 2006 beating of a hapless citizen named Otto Zehm (who died following the encounter) and for lying afterward to investigators.

Thompson is now serving four years in an Arizona lockup.

And may the days and nights pass at a glacial pace.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve always had this gut-level panic that Thompson’s conviction was too good to be true.

Maybe it’s because it took so long to get him to trial, what with our gutless county prosecutor dillydallying around for years before the feds finally jumped in.

Maybe it’s from seeing too many movies where the bad guys win.

I don’t know.

But I have to keep reminding myself that, for once, justice really did prevail.

Thompson’s behavior on March 18, 2006, should serve as a cautionary tale to every police officer who takes the job seriously – not just here in Spokane, but everywhere.

Thompson was called to check out a possible ATM thief who was inside a Zip Trip store on North Division.

It wasn’t true. The report was bogus. Zehm was just an innocent guy shopping for some snacks.

Thompson, however, wasn’t on a fact-finding mission.

In-store cameras show the man charging into the quickie mart like a missile seeking a target.

He drew his baton and almost immediately began clubbing Zehm, who was also armed – police brass would ridiculously claim later –with a 2-liter bottle of diet pop.

Thompson, perhaps weary of bashing the man, opened fire with his Taser. More police joined the melee.

Zehm was hogtied and placed on his stomach against departmental policy. Afraid Zehm might spit, someone put a plastic mask over his face, not bothering to hook the tiny breathing hole to an oxygen supply.

Zehm died a day later, and no wonder.

And so here we are, eight years later, and the beat goes on.

If anyone considers this court ruling a finale, well, I have some dandy oceanfront property in Hillyard that I’m willing to sell for a song.

As long as there’s public money to burn, I’m betting the Scheme Team will keep on whacking that piñata until Thompson’s pardoned out of prison and made president of the Spokane Police Guild.

According to our news account, Thompson attorney Carl Oreskovich said he “will consider seeking a full review of the decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Cha-ching! Cha-ching!

Can you hear the cash registers ring?

Although, as my friend Tom Keefe pointed out, some scenarios are far worse to ponder.

“Don’t forget,” he wrote in an email, “but for the Zip Trip cameras, he (Thompson) would likely have been a candidate for chief of police.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or

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