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Police Officer Sentenced for Excessive Force Leading to Death of Mentally Disabled
Otto Zehm died in 2006 in Spokane, Washington. He was a mentally disabled janitor whose crime was he did not commit any crime, but caught the attention of supercops on duty, who were responding to information of someone resembling Zehm of stealing money from ATMs.
But Zehm was not even before an ATM. He was in a convenience store, and as Victor Boutros, a Justice Department attorney who helped prosecute the case said, “He was just going in as he always did to buy his soda and candy.”
Officer Karl F. Thompson, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and member of the police chanced upon Zehm, and as the evidence shows, targeted, beat, and stunned Zehm without warning, and he and other officers hog-tied and sat on the mentally-disabled janitor, till he passed out. He never regained consciousness, and died two days later.
His last words, according to the trial testimony were “All I wanted was a Snickers bar.”
Thompson emphasized to the court held by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle, “I did not intend to harm Mr. Zehm that night, and did not act in malice … I have dedicated my life to protection of the public.”
Thompson was already convicted last year by a federal jury of lying to investigators in the case and of using excessive force violating the civil rights of Zehm.
The defense lawyers argued that there was no direct evidence to show Thompson had killed Zehm, but federal prosecutors placed evidence to the contrary, including surveillance videos, showing Thompson had attacked Zehm suddenly and without warning, striking him repeatedly and also stunning him until he went down.
Tim Durkin, an assistant U.S. attorney said, “There were seven baton strikes in less than eight seconds … There is compelling medical evidence in this case that Mr. Zehm sustained serious bodily injury.”
Thompson was sentenced to more than four years in prison on Thursday, and taken immediately into custody, against the wishes of his defense lawyers who wanted him to remain free pending appeal.