Detective trained in baton use takes stand in Thompson trial


by & Katie Utehs

Posted on October 26, 2011 at 12:51 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 26 at 6:38 PM

YAKIMA, Wash. -- The federal trial of Spokane Police Ofc. Karl Thompson resumed Wednesday morning with testimony from an expert on video surveillance.

Thompson is accused of using excessive force in the arrest of Otto Zehm, who died two days after the incident in 2006. 

KREM 2's Katie Utehs is watching the case.  You can see her moment-by-moment updates by following KREM 2 on Twitter.

Michael Schott, and expert for the defense, took the stand. He says he can see Zehm kicking when he watches the video, and it appeared the security tape is missing frames and is not even the same tape he originally saw. The prosecution offered to allow Schott to watch the video on his computer.

When they return to analyzing the tape, Schott says the image that appears to be Thompson’s hand is too large to be a hand and might be a headlight.

Schott says he documented 6 baton strikes and they happened in about 7 seconds.

He says if you take into account witness testimony when looking over the video it, "muddies the water."


The defense then calls Det. Larry Bowman to the stand. He trained Karl Thompson on baton use.

Bowman stepped out of the witness box to show the jury proper baton use. He swings side to side. Bowman then describes typical procedure when dealing with a suspect.

Bowman says the first thing to do when contacting a suspect is, "You walk in and you give them a command. You don't want to allow him time to make plans," says Bowman about contacting a suspect. He says officers get in trouble when they wait. Bowman explains a situation where he was overwhelmed by a suspect and was lucky not to be shot.


He says he's been hit in the head during training when an officer missed the target, and that officers are trained to hit soft tissue. Bowman says when he was hit in the head and face by a baton it split open his skin. The defense is working to refute Zehm's head injuries.


"They don't have to wait until they're kicked or hit," says Bowman. He adds that officers are taught to take action first.  The defense asked Bowman if Thompson’s strikes are consistent with his training. Bowman says, "Yes they are."


The prosecution brings up that Thompson was an applicant for chief of police in the Spokane PD when Bowman worked with him. The prosecution also says Bowman is a past client of the case’s Defense Attorney Carl Oreskovich.


Prosecution says Bowman looked at the Zip Trip video with Det. Ferguson narrating and he was only given select witness testimony. "Officer Thomspon approached the suspect and attempted to take control of him," says Bowman in describing Thompson's approach to Zehm. Bowman said he is trained to use the least amount of force necessary to control subjects, including verbal commands.


The defense then called Spokane Police Officer Terry Preunigner to the stand. Preunigner said he’s been a street cop his entire career, and has seen other officers use too much force.


He said that suspects might often see it as a sign of weakness if an officer reduces force in an altercation.


Preuninger describes Zehm 911 call as a robbery and says allegations of Zehm being "high" would be a factor in officer judgment. "His job is to take the call at face value," says Preuninger.


Preuninger tells prosecutors he saw Zehm. kick in the video, but didn't see a hit.


A dispatch clip played in court says suspect may not have taken money. Preuninger also says stress makes officers not hear things and Thompson would have been focused on Zehm, not radio dispatch, during the incident.