By Nicholas K. Geranios
SPOKANE, Wash. — A police officer was indicted on federal civil rights charges over a fatal confrontation with a developmentally disabled man who was struck and Tasered in 2006 at a Spokane, Wash., convenience store.
The indictment announced Monday contends Officer Karl Thompson deprived Otto Zehm of his civil rights and made a false statement to investigators. He was accused of repeatedly striking Zehm with a baton and Tasering him.
City officials have said Zehm, 36, refused police orders to drop a two-liter bottle of soda he was holding, and fought with officers.
Thompson was the first of seven officers who responded to the call at the convenience store, but will likely be the only officer indicted, U.S. Attorney James McDevitt said.
Zehm "was deprived of his right to be free from the unreasonable use of force," U.S. Attorney James McDevitt told a news conference.
The FBI investigated after local officials declined to pursue charges, despite a public outcry over the beating.
If convicted, Thompson faces a maximum 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine on the civil rights count. He faces a maximum 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the false statement count. He is not listed in the telephone book and could not be reached for comment late Monday.
Zehm died two days after he was beaten and bound in the confrontation. Medical Examiner Sally Aiken ruled the death a homicide.
Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick placed Thompson on paid administrative leave Monday.
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"I believe in seeking the truth and trust our criminal justice system to do just that," Kirkpatrick said. A city administrator will determine Thompson's job status as the case proceeds, she said.