Spokane Man Dies After Altercation With Cops
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 24, 2006
SPOKANE, WASHINGTON--The acting head of the Spokane Police Department is defending his department's actions following accusations that officers used unnecessary force when arresting a man with mental illness last Saturday night.
Otto Carl Zehm, 35, died in a local hospital Monday afternoon, two days after he was taken into custody at a convenience store.
Spokane Police acting chief Jim Nicks told KXLY-TV Wednesday that initial results from an autopsy did not show that Zehm's death was brought about by the physical force that as many as seven officers used to restrain him -- including shots from a Taser stun gun.
According to Spokane Police Spokesman Corporal Tom Lee, police were responding to a 9-1-1 call from a woman who said she saw a man "acting strangely" and whom she feared "might be planning a robbery" at a North Division bank. An officer then spotted Zehm at a Zip Trip convenience store about a block away on the corner of Ruby and Augusta.
In a department statement, Lee said Zehm refused to follow the officer's instructions, and instead struggled with the officer who went to place handcuffs on him. At least five more officers that were called in for back-up helped restrained Zehm. Tasers were used, but proved to be effective.
Soon after he was restrained, Zehm said he was having trouble breathing. An ambulance took him to a local hospital, where he was listed in critical condition until he died.
The night of the incident, eyewitness Kristina Turner told KXLY that Zehm was not resisting arrest, but seemed to just be buying a Pepsi.
"The cop told him to drop the soda, and he turned a little bit, and the cop hit him right in the head with a billy stick," Turner said. "The cop kept beating him in the face, on the knees, and the ribs, punching him with the fists in the face. Then they Tasered him."
"The cop continued to beat him. He was just laying there," Turner went on. "He could have easily arrested him the first time he hit him. Easily. And the guy wasn't even resisting arrest, he was just trying to protect his face."
"They beat him so bad, I wouldn't be shocked if he died," Turner added. "It was that bad. He was bloody."
Nicks responded: "Every witness has a different perspective." He added later that officers used appropriate defense tactics against Zehm.
An internal review continues within the department, and a separate investigation will be conducted by the Spokane County Prosecutor's office.
Police have not released video of the incident taken from store security cameras. Officials said they still have to interview some of the store patrons seen in the footage.
"His appearance and his mannerisms might have seemed to police like a man who was, you know, tripped out a little bit," said Zehm's neighbor Adrian Pedey. "But he was just a little slow. And if they would have taken the time to realize he had a handicap, and wasn't a danger or a threat . . ."
KXLY reported that Zehm was a custodian at Fairchild Air Force Base, through an arrangement with Skils'kin, an employment services agency known until recently as Pre-Vocational Training Center. Company officials said in statement that Zehm "would be dearly missed".
The Zip Trip convenience store is located less than a mile from where a Spokane Police officer shot and killed 15-year-old Michael Eagle in September 2003. The deaf 9th grade student from the Idaho School for Deaf and Blind failed to drop a BB gun when Officer Michele Madsen directed him to do so.
Related stories with video links:
"Man involved in police altercation dies" (KXLY-TV)
"Police: Force used to restrain man not a factor in death" (KXLY-TV)