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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Doug Clark: Glimpse of justice rises from great travesty

June 22, 2009
Doug Clark, The Spokesman-Review

Well, hallelujah!

Turns out a brute with a badge can’t just get away with thumping and shocking the hell out of an innocent, mentally ill janitor in this town.

I know. Suspects are innocent until proven guilty.

Let Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. have his day in court for his violent encounter with Otto Zehm.

For the moment, however, I’m savoring the sweet sounds of U.S. Attorney James McDevitt handing down two indictments against Thompson.

Count One: Thompson “struck and repeatedly struck Otto Zehm with a baton and tasered him …”

Count Two: Thompson knowingly lied to investigators.

Monday’s trip to the federal building made me proud I’m still a journalist.

Thompson faces up to 30 years in the joint, although we all know that sort of sentence will never happen.

I don’t want to jinx things. But given the fickle nature of juries, Thompson might very well skate out of this SPDisaster just like ol’ Shonto-shooting Jay Olsen.

But seeing anything come Otto’s way at this point is powerful medicine.

McDevitt’s words put a lump in my throat while I sat taking notes in a drab conference room.

What happened to this 36-year-old special-needs citizen on March 18, 2006, is such a stain on our community.

By now you all know the story – how Otto went into a North Side Zip Trip to buy a plastic jug of Diet Pepsi and a Snickers bar.

What he didn’t know was that some nitwit had previously dialed 911. She reported that Otto had been behaving suspiciously while near an ATM.

That set the wheels in motion.

Along came Thompson. The mayhem soon followed. Otto was beaten, shocked with a Taser and hogtied. A plastic oxygen mask was placed on his face yet never hooked up to oxygen.

No wonder the man suffered a heart attack and died en route to the hospital.

Speaking of travesties, did you see that front-page headline in Saturday’s newspaper?

“Zehm to blame for fight with officers, city says.”

I about spit up my coffee. My mood got worse reading the adjoining story.

“Otto Zehm knew or should have known that he was being detained by a peace officer and had the duty to refrain from force to resist such detention,” stated part of the city’s 56-page response to a civil rights lawsuit filed by Otto’s mom, Ann.

It must be liberating to work in the city attorney’s office and not be encumbered by trivialities like, oh, shame.

Yes, I’m thrilled about Monday’s indictments. But this should never have reached the federal stage.

Charges should have been filed against Thompson long ago. They would have, too, if our county prosecutor, Steve Tucker, was packing anything besides golf balls.

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