Friday, February 26, 2016

UPDATED: Email reveals deep sympathies to officer convicted of excessive force

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 11:13 AM

Karl Thompson
Karl Thompson

"As an agency, the Spokane Police Division has continued to grow and develop with recommendations from the Department of Justice and the Use of Force Commission," Asst. Chief Meidl said via text. "All our officers are now CIT trained and procedural justice is a daily practice on the streets of Spokane. Just recently, Mayor Condon, Chief Dobrow and I met with the Zehm family. The conversation was a productive one; we talked of lessons learned, healing and the need to move forward. I intend to continue that forward momentum for our agency and our community." 

Our original story follows below

Karl Thompson, a Spokane police officer convicted of using excessive force in the death of Otto Zehm and lying to cover it up, was released from prison on Thursday.

A 2011 email recently obtained by the Inlander from Craig Meidl, who recently returned to his post of assistant police chief, provides a glimpse into the deep sympathies for Thompson. The email expresses strong support for Thompson and a sense of betrayal from the public as well as the prosecutors in the case. And now one of those prosecutors is Meidl’s new boss.

“Karl was the most professional officer on the department,” reads the email. “If it could happen to him, it could happen to me.”

The email further states that the “system failed” and that an “innocent man was found guilty.”

“Karl needs our support,” reads the email. “More than ever. His family needs our support. More than ever.”

“Feeling betrayed,” reads the email, sent to about 80 other officers. “Betrayed by the very public we’ve sworn to protect. Betrayed by Prosecutors who violated ethical principals [sic] in courtroom behavior. Threats to witnesses, raised voices, red faces.”

One of those prosecutors was James McDevitt, who indicted Thompson, and is now the police department’s interim director of law enforcement –– Meidl’s boss.

“These are not matters that we do with any sort of glee. We don’t enjoy these types of things. These are tough, these are contentious. These are not a lot of fun, quite frankly,” McDevitt said in 2009, before reading a grand jury indictment of Thompson. “But the federal civil rights statute prohibits any intentional acts by law enforcement officials who misuse their positions to unlawfully deprive individuals of constitutional rights, such as the right to be free from unwarranted assaults, illegal arrests and searches.”

Meidl returned to the position in December, after self-demoting under former Police Chief Frank Straub, who was criticized for what’s been described as an abrasive leadership style. Meidl wasn’t available for comment (we’ll update this post if we hear back from him). Shortly after his reappointment, the Inlander asked Meidl why he was one of the officers who saluted Thompson.

“It wasn't about Otto Zehm, and it was not meant to insult or cause further harm,” he told the Inlander in December of the salute. “The intent was to honor this person that we knew differently than how he'd been portrayed. But at the same time I acknowledge that things should and could have been done differently."

Here is the entirety of the letter:

Subject: Where do we go from here….?

Leave me alone. You wouldn’t understand.

I don’t want to talk about it. I need to talk about it!

Feeling betrayed. Betrayed by the very public we’ve sworn to protect. Betrayed by Prosecutors who violated ethical principals in courtroom behavior. Threats to witnesses, raised voices, red faces.

Numb. Shock. Anger. Unprotected. Fear. Karl was the most professional officer on the department. If it could happen to him, it could happen to me.

Sad. Alone. We will never be the same again. The system failed. Press releases, blogs, newscasts, and headlines; pouring salt on the wound.

Celebration?! How could anyone celebrate if they knew what happened? An innocent man was found guilty. People happy over someone who risked his life every day to protect them. They turned on him. They turned on us. We have to look out for each other; no one else cares about what happens to us.

These are emotions we are all feeling right now. It’s as if the globe we live on has been tilted on its axis. These feelings are normal and expected.

But Karl is still alive! The last chapter has NOT been written yet. There will be appeals. It will take time.

How do we get through this? We get through this ONE DAY AT A TIMe. Not one Week, or a month. One Day. You were given enough grace for ONE DAY. Grace for tomorrow isn’t going to be deposited in your bank until tomorrow. You will get a fresh batch of grace and perseverance tomorrow. Not enough to get your through the week, but enough to get you through ONE DAY.

Be present….. today.

Karl needs our support. More than ever. His family needs our support. More than ever. Our friends and co-workers need our support. More than ever.

I’m available for small talk, deep talk or just a cup of coffee.

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