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City Tries To Blame Otto Zehm's Death On Otto Zehm, Again
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 19, 2010

SPOKANE, WASHINGTON--Nearly four years to the day after Otto Zehm died at the hands of Spokane Police officers, an attorney for the City of Spokane argued in federal court that Zehm himself was to blame for his restraint-related death.

According to the Spokesman-Review newspaper, attorney Carl Oreskovich, who represents Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. in federal criminal and civil proceedings, argued in a pre-trial hearing Friday that the officer was justified in using a high degree of force against Zehm because "Mr. Zehm had stopped taking medications for paranoid schizophrenia".

Oreskovich told U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle that Zehm's failure to take the medication caused him to experience "excited delirium" and to act with "extraordinary" strength and stamina. Oreskovich argued that this explained why Zehm allegedly refused Thompson's commands to drop a 1-liter plastic soda pop bottle.

While the mental health community does not officially recognize the term "excited delirium", Spokane County Medical Examiner Sally Aiken determined that Zehm died on March 20, 2006 from a heart attack "while restrained in a prone position for excited delirium" two days earlier.

On the evening of March 18, 2006, dispatchers received a 9-1-1 call of a man acting "in a bizarre manner" at a bank ATM. Police then spotted Zehm, 36, going into a nearby Zip Trip convenience store. Video from security videos showed Officer Thompson confronting Zehm, striking him with a nightstick and knocking him to the floor. As many as six other officers joined in, restraining Zehm, handcuffing and hogtying him, and shocking him repeatedly with a Taser stun gun.

At some point, officers placed a clear plastic mask with a nickel-sized hole over Zehm's face to prevent him from spitting. After Zehm was restrained on his stomach for about 15 minutes, officers discovered that he had stopped breathing. An ambulance took him to a local hospital, where he was listed in critical condition until he died two days later.

Thompson is awaiting trial for federal charges of denying Zehm's civil rights and making false statements to investigators.

The lawyer has asked the federal judge to order the state to turn over records of Zehm's medical records from a stay at Eastern State Hospital in 2000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin said Oreskovich was on a legal fishing expedition, "so he can show that excited delirium is why Officer Thompson had to use the unreasonable use of force. It's clearly not admissible."

This not the first time officials have tried to pin Thompson's behavior on Zehm's history, even though Thompson knew nothing about Zehm before he confronted him at the convenience store that night.

In April of 2006, just weeks after Zehm's death, sheriff's deputies requested a warrant for Zehm's medical, mental health, and employment records. The detectives said they needed the information to follow up on the officers' claims that Zehm assaulted them. Some legal experts said that it was highly unusual for investigators to probe the past of a dead person who could not be charged with a crime.

That request was denied.

The city has also been criticized for, among other things, refusing to release the security videos until local media pushed the court to order the release. The images in the videos seem to contradict much of what the Spokane Police Department had told the public about the incident.

On Thursday, an estimated four dozen or so people showed up at the Zip Trip store to demonstrate the officers' actions four years earlier, and to remember Zehm.

"What makes me infuriated is seeing the city's legal argument that Otto's own actions caused his death," Liz Moore, director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, told the Spokesman-Review. "What action? That he wanted a soda? Or was it that he wanted a Snickers?"

Entire article:
Lawyer: Zehm in 'excited delirium' before police arrived
Doug Clark: Four years later, let's not forget Otto Zehm
Remembering poor Otto Zehm . . .
Otto Zehm: Spokane Man Died After Scuffle With Police (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Other Inclusion Daily Express articles related to Restraints and Seclusion

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