Trial Finally Begins for Karl F. Thompson, Spokane Cop Who Beat/Tasered Mentally Disabled Janitor Otto Zehm to Death

It's been more than five and a half years since mentally disabled janitor Otto Zehm was beaten and Tasered to death by Spokane police officer Karl F. Thompson on the floor of a convenience store.

But after a mile-long list of court motions and attorney jostling, the trial is finally set to begin.

The hearings will be held in Yakima instead of Spokane, as federal prosecutors were worried about the impartiality of local jurors in this high-profile case.

Zehm was in a Spokane Zip Trip convenience store using an ATM machine on March 18, 2006, when two young women called police reporting that he was trying to steal money from an ATM (allegations that later proved unfounded).

When Officer Thompson came into the store, he immediately hit Zehm with the first of what would be 13 baton strikes. A host of other officers soon showed up to the store, and Zehm was Tasered as well as fitted with a plastic mask over his face while officers sat on his back.

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Otto Zehm
Zehm was unconscious after beating and two days later he was dead.

To say the case has been a big deal in the Spokane area would be a gross understatement.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, who wasn't mayor when the incident happened but who nonetheless has handled much of the response, has been roundly criticized for what many call an attempted cover-up (Verner claimed that Zehm "lunged" at Thompson, which was found not to be true, for example).

Zehm's death was ruled a homicide by Spokane County Medical Examiner Sally Aiken, but Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker elected not to file charges.

That's when the FBI got involved and completed its own investigation, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin charging Thompson with murder.

Among the evidence on tap in the trial are documents that show Spokane police lied in reports, withheld evidence, and hid a report from EMT crews that showed Zehm as suffering from a massive baton wound to his head.

A civil suit, meanwhile, has also been filed against SPD and the city of Spokane, which seeks $2.9 million, though Thompson's defense attorneys have said that "Zehm knew or should have known that he was being detained by a peace officer and had the duty to refrain from using force to resist such detention."

That's "resist" as in resist the impact of a baton blow with his skull.

Opening statements begin on Wednesday.

Watch security video of the incident below, courtesy of The Spokesman-Review.

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