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Spokane mayor apologizes for beating death

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By Nicholas K. Geranios
Associated Press
SPOKANE -- Six years after Otto Zehm died at the hands of Spokane police, Mayor David Condon has delivered a hand-written letter of apology to Zehm's mother.
Condon met with Ann Zehm, 84, last week to deliver his letter.
"You, and our community, waited for too long for resolution in this matter," the letter said. "For me, blame was clearly misplaced in this case, and I fear that compounded the pain for you and many others."
Otto Zehm was 36 in 2006 after he was mistakenly accused of theft and beaten, hog-tied and Tasered by police in a convenience store. Zehm, a mentally disabled janitor who had committed no crime, died two days later without regaining consciousness.
The Zehm case reverberated through city politics for years. It was a factor in Condon's victory last year over Mayor Mary Verner, and several city officials tied to the case have been fired.
The written apology was part of a mediated settlement of a lawsuit that was reached last month between the city and Ann Zehm. It also called for a payment of $1.67 million, better training for police, and a pavilion in a Spokane park to be named in honor of Zehm.
At the same June 4 meeting, city officials gave Zehm a check for more than $700,000 -- representing the city's portion of the monetary part of the settlement. The city's insurance company will pay the balance of the $1.67 million.
Condon's letter said: "I very much regret, and I sincerely apologize for, the death of your son, Otto. I understand that Otto was a loving and supportive son who enjoyed his work and enjoyed spending time with you, other family members, and friends. His death is a loss not only for you, but also for our entire community.
"I cannot change the past, but I can ensure a better future. Since Otto's death, the City has committed to instituting procedures to protect citizens like Otto.
"I will recommend to the Park Board that it name a pavilion for Otto and place a plaque stating that the pavilion is offered: 'In Memory of Otto Zehm.'"
Police confronted Zehm in a convenience store after two young women reported he was behaving erratically. The women erroneously reported that he may have taken money from an ATM.
Surveillance video in the store showed that police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. rushed up to Zehm and began beating him even though Zehm was retreating. Zehm was beaten with a baton and Tasered. He was also hog-tied and sat on by officers until he lost consciousness.
The civil case is separate from a criminal case filed in federal court by the Department of Justice over Zehm's death.
Thompson was convicted last year in federal court of using excessive force and lying to investigators in the case. But he has yet to be sentenced and remains free as his lawyers seek a new trial.
Story tags » PoliceSpokane

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