4-year sentence in police beating of disabled man

Associated Press Modified: November 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm •  Published: November 15, 2012
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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A police officer was sentenced Thursday to more than four years in prison for using excessive force against a mentally disabled janitor who died after being erroneously suspected of stealing money from an ATM.

Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., 65, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to four years and three months for his role in the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.

Van Sickle said he hoped the sentence would begin to bring closure to Zehm's family and to the Spokane community, which has been at odds with the police department as a result of this case and others.

"This had a significant impact on the community and how it viewed its police department," Van Sickle said.

Van Sickle also ordered that Thompson be taken into custody immediately, over the objections of defense lawyers, who wanted him to remain free while the verdict is appealed.

Thompson was convicted last year by a federal jury of violating Zehm's civil rights by using excessive force and then lying to investigators in the case.

Six years ago, Zehm was beaten and stunned by Thompson in a convenience store. He was hog-tied and sat on by other officers until he passed out. The 36-year-old died two days later without regaining consciousness.

Zehm had committed no crime.

Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich argued for a sentence of zero to 16 months, saying there was no evidence presented that the actions of Thompson led directly to Zehm's death.

Thompson addressed the court, apologizing to Zehm's mother. "I did not intend to harm Mr. Zehm that night, and did not act in malice," he said. "I have dedicated my life to protection of the public."

Thompson is a Vietnam veteran and a decorated 40-year veteran of law enforcement in Los Angeles, northern Idaho and Spokane, Oreskovich said. "This man before you is not a villain," Oreskovich told the judge.

But federal prosecutors noted that Thompson attacked Zehm without warning, and struck him repeatedly with a 30-inch baton and also stunned him.

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