KHQ.COM - A jury has found Spokane police officer Karl Thompson guilty of using excessive force in the 2006 death of Otto Zehm in a north Spokane convenience store. Thompson was also found guilty of lying to investigators about the fatal confrontation. Thompson, 64, was the first officer at the scene the night police beat, hog-tied and tased Zehm inside a North Spokane Zip Trip in 2006.
Zehm died two days later. When he arrived at the gas station Thompson said he saw Zehm entering the store. Thompson said he was under the impression Zehm may have robbed two women in car using a nearby ATM. That information later proved to be false. In closing arguments on Monday Federal Prosecutors said "this case is about a police officer who chose to strike first and ask questions later."
Throughout the trial the prosecution worked to prove that Thompson struck Zehm in the head or the neck with his (Thompson's) baton. A strike to the head or neck is considered lethal force. "You had evidence from not only the witnesses, but the doctors in this case, that there were strikes to the head and to the neck," Boutros said. "If you find any willful neck strikes or head strikes, find the defendant guilty of count one." On Monday, Boutros pointed out 14 baton strikes he considered 'unreasonable' or 'excessive'.
In closing arguments on Monday the defense spoke of Thompson's long career as a police officer. "This is an honorable man," Defense Attorney Carl Oreskovich said. "This is not a man who comes up on somebody with a baton. This is a man who is constantly trying to be better." Oreskovich also brought up a letter written by Thompson's fellow officers in 2006 petitioning him to apply for the police chief position eventually filled by Anne Kirkpatrick.
The trial moved to Yakima after Judge Fred Van Sickle ruled he did not want pretrial publicity to bias a jury. The incident at the Zip Trip took place five and a half years ago on March 18, 2006. "This is a tragic and terrible story, but you all get to write the last chapter," Boutros said, "You get the final word and the final word is guilty."
RELEASE FROM THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:
Spokane – Today, Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced the jury's guilty verdicts in the excessive force and falsification trial against Karl F. Thompson, Jr., age 64.
The Indictment charged Karl Thompson, a Spokane Police officer, with the deprivation of Otto Zehm's civil rights on March 18, 2006, by repeatedly striking him with a baton and tasering him, resulting in bodily injury. The Indictment also charged Karl Thompson with making a false entry in a record in a matter investigated by a federal agency. The jury trial began in Yakima on October 12, 2011, and concluded today with the jury's verdict.
Michael C. Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said, "Law enforcement officers are entrusted with important power and authority. With that authority comes the responsibility not to abuse essential constitutional rights of those they serve, to be honest in the reports they make, and not block legitimate efforts to investigate allegations of excessive force. It was very important for this community to have the events of March 18, 2006, revealed to the public and to seek justice for the innocent victim of this abusive police conduct. "
The civil rights charge carries a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, up to 3 years of court supervision after release and restitution. The falsification of records in a matter investigated by a federal agency carries a maximum penalty of twenty years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and up to 3 years of court supervision after release.
The federal civil rights statutes prohibit intentional acts by law enforcement officials who misuse their positions to unlawfully deprive individuals of constitutional rights, such as the right to be free from unwarranted assaults, illegal arrests and searches. Because almost any matter which presents a violation of federal law is also a matter involving a local or state law violation, deference is given to local prosecutions. But where there is no local action or where the results of the state or local proceedings are insufficient to vindicate federal interests, a federal prosecution may be brought.
This investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This case is being prosecuted by Timothy Durkin and Aine Ahmed, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington and Victor Boutros, Trial Attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
Statement from Spokane mayor Mary Verner:
"The jury in the trial was in the best position to render a verdict in this case. And, we accept their decision. This verdict is only one step toward closure and healing for our community.
"I remain committed to completing a thorough internal and external review of all aspects of the case. Our citizens rightfully require their elected officials to acknowledge mistakes and problems and make changes to avoid them in the future. That's what we're going to do."