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Washington State District Court Oversees §1988 Settlement against Spokane Police

Washington State District Court Oversees §1988 Settlement against Spokane Police

The City of Spokane, Washington, settled a civil rights claim in May 2012 for two million dollars in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington, with the estate of Otto Zehm, deceased. The suit arose from a Spokane Police Department action that resulted in the death of Mr. Zehm, and was subsequently covered up by Spokane Police. It led to the firing of eight police officers and the acting chief of police. So far, one police officer has been charged and convicted.

Over and above the settlement, which guaranteed $1.67 million to the deceased’s family, the aftershocks of scandal resulted in reversing the momentum of a mayoral race and installing a new administration, and the repopulating of the hierarchy of the city attorney’s office. Further charges have been weighed.

On March 18, 2006, police responded to a 911 call advising them of a man tampering with an ATM. The caller was not asked to confirm whether money was taken. Police dispatch alerted Officer Karl Thompson and other police officers as to the suspicion of the caller. Officer Thompson followed Zehm into a convenience store. Within the minute other officers were entering the store and Officer Thompson was beating Zehm with his baton. The officers Tazed Zehm, hog-tied him, leaving him in a face-down position, and put an oxygen non-rebreathing mask without the attachable oxygen bottle on Zehm’s face. Within minutes Zehm was dead.

Witnesses, store surveillance tapes, 911 tapes, and expert testimony revealed over the course of events that almost every aspect of Officer Thompson’s report on the incident was a lie. Along the way, the seven other officers and the acting chief of police knowingly backed up Thompson’s lies, fabricated evidence, ignored Freedom of Information Act requests for reports, and in general obstructed justice in every way possible.

The monies involved above the $1.67 million of Zehm’s family, $.33 million, were designated by settlement to go to dedicating and naming a park in Zehm’s honor, updating the Spokane Police forces policy on use of force, training the force in Crisis Intervention, and issuing a public, detailed apology from the new mayor of Spokane.

Officer Thompson was tried and convicted of criminal civil rights violations. At the time of sentencing about fifty Spokane Police officers saluted Officer Thompson at the courthouse. See: Estate of Otto Zehm v. City of Spokane, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Wash.), Case No. 2:09-cv-00080-LRS.

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Related legal case

Estate of Otto Zehm v. City of Spokane