City leaders call officers' behavior "insensitive" to Zehm family


by & Katie Utehs

Posted on November 3, 2011 at 6:11 AM

Updated Saturday, Nov 23 at 10:19 AM

SPOKANE-- A judge ruled Friday morning to send Karl Thompson to jail as he awaits sentencing.

Karl Thompson walked away from the Yakima courthouse Wednesday after he heard the guilty verdict.

A hearing regarding Thompson's detention was scheduled Thursday, but the judge said it would take another day to decide. The ruling to take Thompson into custody was announced at another hearing 10:00 a.m. Friday.

During Friday's proceedings, U.S. Magistrate James Hutton said that the defense has not presented a strong enough case to avoid Thompson's detention, and that the government had presented its case better. The judge mentioned the violent nature of the crime. He said a conviction can make a defendant do things out of character.

KREM 2's Katie Utehs saw Thompson shake his attorneys' hands after the ruling. U.S. Marshals then took Thompson into custody. Spokane officers were seen crying and saluting Thompson as he left.

Following the reaction by some Spokane Police Officers, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick released the following joint statement: 

“We have acknowledged the pain that many of our officers feel as a result of the Thompson verdict, but it has been widely reported to us that the courtroom behavior of some officers, though protected as free speech, does not reflect the values we stand for.  It clearly was insensitive to the friends and family of Otto Zehm, and for that, we apologize.  We had previously directed that officers could not be in the courtroom while on duty.  Still, on duty or not, we expect our officers—because of their position in the community—to live up to a high professional standard.”

The prosecution wanted Thompson behind bars as soon as possible after he was found guilty. U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby said prosecutors made that demand because Thompson “was convicted of a violent crime. Under Federal law, we can seek immediate incarceration of somebody that is convicted of a violent crime.”

Thursday's hearing felt tense on both sides, as the defense tried to show errors in the original trial. The defense attorneys said they want to see the conviction overturned, and alleged jurors watched TV during the proceedings. Attorneys believe Thompson's right to a fair trial was compromised.
The judge told jurors everyday, as well as before every break from court, that they were not allowed to watch TV news or read the newspaper. He didn't want them seeing information about Otto Zehm not allowed in the trial.
Jurors in the Karl Thompson criminal trial stayed in the same Yakima hotel as attorneys. Thompson's defense attorney Carl Oreskovich says TV monitors played in the hotel lobby during breakfast. He believes jurors may have seen trial coverage. KREM 2's sister station Northwest Cable News airs in Yakima and has covered the trial.
Oreskovich did not cite any specific times when jurors may have watched the news during Thursday's hearing.
He argued jurors asked for more information about Zehm. Prosecutors say if jurors had not watched TV news they would not have asked the questions that they did.

Defense attorneys requested a new trial because they say the government “came in the back door with what they couldn't do through the front door."
Prosecutors told jurors in closing statements that Zehm’s last words were "I just wanted a Snickers."
Karl Thompson’s defense disliked this and called it a sneaky move to get around the judge's order to not call Zehm innocent.
Thompson faces up to 30 years in prison and $500,000 in fines for both charges. The judge said the government will seek an eight to ten year sentence during Friday's hearing. A date for sentencing has not been set.
Now that the criminal trial has concluded, the City of Spokane and nine officers, including Thompson and acting Chief of Police at the time of the incident Jim Nicks, must deal with a civil lawsuit filed by the Zehm family. No word yet when that case will begin to move forward.
Supporters of the Zehm family set up a small memorial Wednesday at the Zip Trip where he was beaten. A white piece of paper on a cardboard box at the memorial reads, “Rest in Peace Otto Zehm.” A bundle of colorful flowers was placed next to the box.