Spokane police officer ordered held

  • Fri Nov 4th, 2011 2:22pm
  • News

By Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press

SPOKANE — A Spokane police officer was ordered to be immediately jailed Friday, two days after he was convicted of using excessive force in the 2006 death of a mentally ill man.

Karl F. Thompson had been free since his conviction in Yakima on Wednesday. Defense attorneys fought the detention motion, saying they intend to seek a new trial, but U.S. Magistrate James Hutton rejected their arguments.

“I order the immediate detention of the defendant,” Hutton said by video feed from Yakima.

Although Thompson faces up to 20 years in prison, federal prosecutors have indicated they plan to seek a sentence of eight to 10 years. A sentencing date has not been set.

Some three dozen law enforcement officers packed a federal courtroom in Spokane, along with some family members of victim Otto Zehm, and there was plenty of tension as Friday’s video hearing proceeded.

As Thompson, 64, walked out of the courtroom after Hutton’s ruling, officers stood and saluted him.

Thompson’s attorneys declined to comment afterward.

Carl Oreskovich, an attorney for Thompson, has said he plans to seek a new trial based on allegations of juror misconduct. Oreskovich said he witnessed jurors watching TV reports of the trial while it was under way.

Thompson was convicted on charges of using excessive force against Zehm and lying to cover up his actions in the March 18, 2006, beating from which Zehm died two days later.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors this week declined to say if they plan to bring additional charges against other Spokane police officers in the case. U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby refused to disclose whether the investigation was ongoing.

Zehm’s family has also filed a civil lawsuit against the city and numerous police officers, seeking damages for the death.

Oreskovich has said the allegation of jury misconduct will become part of a motion to seek a new trial from U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle, who presided over the just-concluded trial.

Thompson, defense attorneys and the judge all stayed at an Oxford Suites hotel in Yakima, along with five of the 12 jurors. Oreskovich contends that jurors had breakfast in a common area that had at least two televisions showing various news updates on Northwest Cable News. Oreskovich believes watching those newscasts exposed jurors to prohibited information about Zehm.

Prior to closing arguments, the jurors sent Van Sickle a note seeking more information about Zehm’s employment status, how he was viewed in the community, whether he used drugs, if he had mental illness and whether he had a criminal history. All of that information was barred from disclosure during the trial by Van Sickle through previous rulings.