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Wash. Officer Gets 4-Year Sentence In Man's Death

November 16, 2012  | 

Screenshot via KXLY.
Screenshot via KXLY.

A judge sentenced a Spokane (Wash.) Police officer to more than four years in prison on Thursday for using excessive force on a disabled janitor.

Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., 65, was sentenced to four years and three months for his role in the 2006 death of Otto Zehm. Officer Thompson struck Zehm repeatedly with his baton and stunned him.

Officer Thompson was the first to respond to a 911 call that Zehm had robbed an ATM. Thompson was convicted last year by a federal jury of violating Zehm's civil rights and lying to investigators in the case.

"This had a significant impact on the community and how it viewed its police department," U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle Van Sickle said, reports the Associated Press.


Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

S.S @ 11/20/2012 8:02 AM

sorry no defense for this. Just too bad for both families.

Doug M. @ 11/20/2012 11:49 AM

Wrong. The call came in as a robbery, mislabeled because two teenage girls freaked out about some of the decedent's behaviors. The officer was working on that basis when he encountered the decedent, who because of his mental health and intellectual disabilities was even less able/likely than most people to understand and comply with the officer's directions, and none of his support network addressed the fact that he would not take his meds. He displayed what a reasonable officer would have considered resistive behaviors, and the matter escalated. As a suspect in what was reported as a violent crime, the officer perceived a need to impose immediate control and the fight was on. The decedent died, not as a result of the officer, but of the fire department's mishandling of his medical needs by putting a mask on his face through which he could not breathe.

Did the decedent get struck, repeatedly? Yes. Did he get struck in places that under calm reflection were not sound target areas? Probably. However, LE fights are not carefully choreographed movie scenes with safety officers. They are stupid, brutal messes, full of knees and elbows and sticks.

There was no objective basis for the prosecution. It was a politically driven witch hunt based on the tragedy of how Mr. Zehm's life ended. No crime was committed, but the death was surely tragic. The AUSAs were found to have concealed potentially exculpatory evidence, but it was not prejudicial, a ruling that I can't understand. That alone should justify a reversal and Bar discipline against the AUSAs.

Code 3 @ 11/26/2012 9:58 AM

Doug M, very well put. If it's been confirmed that exculpatory evidence has been withheld, then absolutely it should be reversed. However, knowing the courts as they are, my guess would be that the Court of Appeals will just send it back to the lower court.

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