Feds questioning police actions in Zehm case

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by By KREM.com

KREM.com

Posted on September 17, 2009 at 3:54 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 30 at 11:34 AM

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SPOKANE -- A motion by the Justice Department lays out new allegations against the officers involved in the Otto Zehm case.

Zehm died more than three years ago after being tazed and beaten by police, officers thought he'd robbed an ATM but the mentally disabled janitor was there buying a bottle of Pepsi and a candy bar.

Officer Karl Thompson was the first to confront Zehm and is facing a criminal and civil suit. Now, for the first time, the Justice Department says other officers may also face charges.

They also accuse the city's Assistant Attorney of misconduct and ask the civil trial be put on hold.

In a 27-page motion, it is the first time the U.S Attorney's Office has stated their criminal investigation into the death of Otto Zehm, and it may extend past Karl Thompson to include "possibly others"?which could be other officers or people connected to the Spokane Police Department's investigation.

In the motion, U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt is asking the judge to temporarily shut down the civil case against Thompson, Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks and six other Spokane Police Officers until the criminal case against Thompson is over.

McDevitt says the civil case needs to be interrupted because he claims Spokane Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi plans "to make full use of the civil discovery process to defend?Karl Thompson."

McDevitt also accuses Treppiedi of questionable tactics in his effort to defend the city of Spokane over the last three and half years.

Those tactics include trying to interview a department of justice expert witness and defying a "gag order" imposed by his client-Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick-by relaying "normally confidential grand jury information to the target (Karl Thompson) of the Department of Justice investigation"

In the court document, Treppiedi "explained he was not a police department employee so he was not bound by his clients "gag order."

The brief also calls into question the actions of two officers.

Retired Assistant Chief Al Odenthal, who allegedly spliced off two of the four zip trip security camera angles, they were made public months later.

Treppiedi reportedly said the cameras "show nothing of value," but the brief says they show a clearer angle "of Zehm using the plastic diet Pepsi bottle to shield his head and face from Thompson."

The brief goes on to accuse detective Terry Ferguson of not following police protocol, of conducting interviews on her own without any Spokane County Detective being present, and for taking two and half years to forward a complete investigative file to the Department of Justice, but only doing so "after a Grand Jury subpoena was issued."

We spoke to Treppiedi late this afternoon. He says his office is working on a response that will be filed next week.

He says the characterization of the Justice Department motion is out of context and he looks forward to presenting the full story.

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