Thompson: "I was doing my job, my duty, trying to protect people"


by & Katie Utehs

Posted on October 27, 2011 at 10:25 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 27 at 5:22 PM

YAKIMA, Wash. -- The federal trial of Spokane Police Ofc. Karl Thompson resumed Thursday 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.

Officer Karl Thompson is scheduled to testify Thursday, but the defense first called John Cappellano, a firefighter and paramedic in Spokane.

Cappellano says he was called to remove taser darts from Zehm the night of the incident. He saw

Zehm restrained on the ground with three or four officers struggling. Cappellano remembers Zehm “putting up a terrific fight,” and saw him spitting. Cappellano says paramedics rolled Zehm on his side to remove the taser darts, and then backed off of him. He recalls that Zehm was breathing fine, and he did not see any head injuries. The defense asks Cappellano if Zehm was angry. He says, "Extremely angry." The prosecution then asks if he would be angry after being tased and hit. Cappellano then steps down.

He is followed by Ofc. Theresa Ferguson. Ferguson was a detective for 18 years before retiring from the Spokane PD. She has a BA in Social Work, and worked for the department until June of 2011. Her pre-interview with Thompson was not recorded or transcribed, but she says she did take notes. She wrote that Thompson said Zehm “maybe got her money” when speaking about alleged theft. She also wrote that Thompson could have disengaged with Zehm before firing his taser.

The jury is not allowed to see the notes, since they are not evidence.

The prosecution says that Ferguson showed a bias in her notes, and alleges that she has details of the incident that she did not document. The defense counters this by saying the pre-interview is consistent with the police department’s policy. Ferguson says a pre-interview is required according to the department. She says Thompson said he could have disengaged, but did not because other people were in the store.

Thompson takes the stand following Ferguson. After some details about his character, he begins answering questions about the night.

"It was a very powerfully raw emotion," Thompson said after learning Zehm had died.
Thompson says he is familiar with Zip Trip.

The night of the incident, he says he heard the suspect in the alleged robbery was fleeing over the radio. He was at the station at the time. He recalls hearing that a male approached a female at an ATM, he went running from the scene, and may have taken money. He says he heard a confirmed theft.

Thompson said the people inside Zip Trip were his greatest concern. He says he never directly heard that Zehm had a gun, but his jacket might have provided concealment. He says, “You’ve got bottles. You’ve got glass. The store itself has three walls of glass.”

Thompson says he saw Zehm holding a pop bottle in each hand. He recalls coming to a quick stop in front of Zehm and giving him commands. "When I said, 'drop the bottle,' he said, 'why'?" Thompson said. He says he was looking for compliance. Thompson says he, “[Wanted] to get him in handcuffs.”
Thompson says Zehm took two quick swings to his face as they were going down. He remembered telling him to drop the bottle and stop resisting. After repeated commands, then he tased. Thompson says he was worried when Zehm rose to his feet, and remembers feeling blows to the chest and face.

KREM 2’s Katie Utehs said Thompson appeared calm and collected as he gave his side of the story to jurors, addressing all the allegations against him.

One main question was if Thompson paused when approaching Zehm. Thompson testified "Whether it was a mental pause or physical I have that memory."
Thompson described a violent struggle saying "I definitly felt punches in my ribs."
After Zehm was restrained Thompson says he told Officer Tim Moses he'd struck Zehm with his baton. "I said i hit him wherever I could, except the head."
Thompson testified he never used the phrases lunge or boxing stance, but Chief Jim Nicks told reporters that's what happened.

Thompson says he learned days later while on administrative leave, Zehm had died and Nicks made the lunge statement.
Thompson testified he called Detective Theresa Ferguson so she could tell Nicks it was innaccurate saying "number one it was inaccurate, number two that's not what happened."
The defense ended their initial questioning with Thompson summerizing his actions that night. "I was doing my job, my duty, trying to protect people."

The prosecution was quick to point out Thompson has had training on how to testify and deal with cross-examination.

Officer Karl Thompson says he choose to not watch the zip trip surveillance video before doing his recorded interview. He didn't want it to influence his memory of what happened.
Today he testified giving his version of the events.
He says Zehm punched him several times in the ribs.
When asked to point that out in the video he couldn't, saying "you can’t see his upper torso completely and it's not displayed in the frame."
Thompson says the cashier counter blocks the view of Zehm’s punches.
When asked to match other punching testimony with video Thompson struggled. He says he made some mistakes in his original accounts. He says there are issues of time distortion.

Thompson will take the stand again Friday.
He may be the strongest witness so far in his defense. His defense team only has to cast a reasonable doubt with jurors.