Claims added to Otto Zehm federal lawsuit


by / Lee Stoll

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 3:20 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 29 at 12:23 PM

SPOKANE -- Attorneys have filed amendments to a federal lawsuit that accuses Spokane Police officers of wrongfully beating a mentally disabled man to death.

Attorneys for Otto Zehm's estate and his mother field the federal lawsuit in March, but this week they added charges to it. The suit now claims police not only violated federal laws but state laws too, including Zehm's right to privacy after his death.

Zehm died more than three years ago on the floor of a North Spokane Zip Trip, after he was tased and beaten by Spokane Police officers who believed he had robbed an ATM.

Attorney Breann Beggs says misinformation relayed from witnesses to a dispatcher and then to officers may have been the reason behind the forced used.

"If that's the reason, then it's the city dispatchers' fault," says Beggs. "It's a negligence claim."

That claim is one of several in the lawsuit against the City of Spokane and the responding officers. In addition, in now includes allegations that police violated Zehm's right to privacy by getting a search warrant for his medical records after his death.

Beggs says the warrant was granted because police said they were investigating Zehm for assaulting an officer.

"He was dead and the law in Washington is you cannot prosecute someone who is dead," says Beggs.

Washington law also states autopsy results are private. However, the suit now says Jim Nicks, who was acting Spokane Police Chief at the time, violated the law by holding a press conference after the medical examiner ruled Zehm's death was a homicide.

"In our opinion, he revealed private violation of the law," says Beggs.

The City of Spokane has 30 days to respond to the amended claims.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney's office is considering whether to file federal indictments against any of the officers involved.

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