Otto Zehm was violently confronted by Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson on March 20, 2006. He died two days later.
Zehm, who was 36 at the time, suffered from mental illness but lived and worked on his own. On the night of the confrontation, he was on his way to a convenience store when two girls erroneously reported him to police as a robber. Finding Zehm in a Zip Trip in north Spokane, Thompson beat Zehm with his baton and shocked him with his Taser before more officers arrived. Zehm was left hog-tied on the floor. He lost consciousness and later died. An autopsy revealed that Zehm died due to lack of oxygen to the brain, and his death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.
The story that was first told by police on the night of the confrontation (that Zehm "lunged" and "attacked" Thompson) has slowly eroded. Surveillance videos came out months after Zehm's death, giving a more complete picture. The acting chief at the time, Jim Nicks, has since testified that he believes Thompson used excessive force.
Thompson stood trial in Yakima in October, facing charges of lying to investigators and using excessive force. The trial was moved there after the judge ruled that the intense media coverage in Spokane could taint the jury pool.
On Nov. 2, after two days of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict: Thompson was found guilty of violating Zehm's civil right by using excessive force and of lying to federal investigators.
In the wake of Zehm's death, a police ombudsman position has been created, but its effectiveness in the face of a powerful Police Guild is still questioned.
On May 21, 2012, the city settled the civil suit with Zehm's family. The settlement included a formal apology, a sum of $1.67 million, mandated crisis training, $50,000 to improve the police department, and the agreement that the city would name a permanent park structure after Zehm.