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No charges against Spokane police likely in deadly arrest

The Associated Press

Evidence uncovered to date is insufficient to support charges against city police officers who were involved in a fatal confrontation with a mentally disabled janitor, the Spokane County prosecutor says.

At the same time, Prosecutor Steven J. Tucker said Tuesday he would leave open the question of charges in the death of Otto Zehm, a matter that has plagued authorities for more than half a year, in case new evidence emerges from a separate FBI investigation.

"I don't have enough to charge criminally and try to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, but (federal investigators) may well find something," Tucker said. "They are out a ways from giving a final conclusion."

Breean Beggs said he and other lawyers from Center for Justice, which is representing Zehm's mother, conferred Tuesday with Tucker and officials from the FBI and U.S. attorney's office and were told federal investigators are continuing to examine and analyze surveillance videotape from the convenience store where the confrontation occurred.

"The attorneys for the Zehm family are pleased because that is what we have been asking for from day one, which is that type of investigation," Beggs said.

Prosecutor largely rules out charges against police in deadly arrest

Zehm, 36, died after being confronted, subdued and arrested March 18 by as many as seven police officers following a theft report that turned out to be false. Zehm stopped breathing after being jolted repeatedly by a stun gun and held on his stomach. He never regained consciousness and died two days later at Deaconess Medical Center.

Medical Examiner Dr. Sally Aiken ruled the death a homicide resulting from lack of oxygen to the brain as a result of heart failure while he was being restrained on his stomach.

Last month Aiken issued an opinion that an oxygen non-rebreather mask which was held over Zehm's face to keep him from spitting on the officers did not contribute to his death. Beggs, however, said the tests that led to that finding were not conducted under conditions that replicated the arrest.

City fire officials announced last week that as a result of their own internal investigation, the non-rebreather masks, which have a breathing hole the size of a dime, will no longer be provided to police officers in confrontations with spitters. Instead, gauze masks will be provided in cases of spitting by violent subjects.

The Fire Department previously had no policy on use of the masks, which are designed for use in administering oxygen from tanks. The mask used on Zehm was never hooked up to an oxygen tank.

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