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Dennis Hession orders an investigation of the Otto Zehm case

With Acting Police Chief Jim Nicks and several other officers looking on with folded arms, Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession announced at City Hall Monday that he's seeking an independent review of police actions in two controversial cases.

The first involves the death of mentally disabled janitor Otto Zehm, who was wrestled to the ground, Tasered and hogtied in March when police responded to what appears to be erroneous information that Zehm had stolen money from an ATM machine. Zehm stopped breathing while he was in restraints and died two days later.

The other involves the way two detectives handled -- or mishandled -- digital camera evidence involving former Spokane firefighter Daniel Ross for having sex with a 16-year-old while on duty at Station 17 in February.

"When we have mistakes that call into question the credibility of the Police Department, we need to act," Hession said at his news conference.

The mayor plans to seek an outside source -- either another law enforcement agency, or an academic institution, he said -- to review police conduct, procedures and the way information was disseminated in these cases.

Hession said he hopes to pick a review agency by the end of this week. He said he didn't want to wait until a new police chief is hired, which is imminent.

Communication -- both information relayed to officers involved in the Zehm matter, and in the way information to the public and the press was handled -- is part of the probe.

Nicks and other police officials repeated that Zehm had "lunged" at officers, and that he was placed on his side to ease breathing after being hog-tied.

The family and attorneys representing Zehm were placed under a gag order. County Prosecutor Steve Tucker withheld surveillance video from the Zip-Trip where the incident took place. The video, released a week ago under threat of a lawsuit by the Spokesman-Review, shows Zehm retreating from officers and left on his stomach for most of the time he was in restraints.

Asked if Nicks was lying, Hession said, "I still support Chief Nicks. I do recognize, however, the conduct of Chief Nicks and perhaps others in the police department could have raised questions among the public."

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