Officers in Zehm likely to face charges
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March 23, 2012 - Updated: 11:52 a.m.
Federal obstruction charges are expected to be filed soon against two more Spokane police officers in connection with the city’s handling of the Otto Zehm investigation, which U.S. Department of Justice officials have called an “extensive cover-up.”
Attorneys representing Officers Sandra McIntyre and Tim Moses both confirmed Thursday that they have entered discussions with federal prosecutors about the potential charges relating to their clients’ testimony during the investigation into Zehm’s death.
Zehm died six years ago after a violent encounter with police in a north Spokane convenience store. The first officer on the scene that night, Karl F. Thompson Jr., was convicted in November of obstruction and using excessive force.
Attorney Rob Cossey, who is representing McIntyre, said he will meet Tuesday with Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington. His client had long ago received what’s known as a target letter, indicating that prosecutors were seeking to charge her with obstruction.
“It’s definitely going to blow up,” Cossey said, referring to the expected charges.
Moses’ attorney, Chris Bugbee, also confirmed Thursday that he has entered discussions with Harrington, but he would not divulge the substance of those talks.
“I’ve had negotiations with Mr. Harrington about Mr. Moses’ participation in the Otto Zehm trial,” Bugbee said. “And that’s all I want to say.”
Bugbee said Harrington did not indicate when any potential federal grand jury indictments were expected to be handed down. He declined to make his client available for interviews.
U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby said Thursday he won’t comment about any aspect of an ongoing investigation.
Reporter Thomas Clouse discusses this case on KHQ
But the discussions described by Bugbee and Cossey are similar to those held with Thompson prior to his 2009 indictment.
According to court records, Thompson and his attorney, Carl Oreskovich, were invited to talk with federal prosecutors and negotiate a settlement to his charges prior to the actual indictments charging him with using unreasonable force and lying to investigators about his confrontation with Zehm on March 18, 2006.
Spokane Mayor David Condon said the news came as a surprise to him and interim Spokane police Chief Scott Stephens. The mayor said he met about a month ago with Ormsby, who, Condon said, did not indicate any new charges were coming soon.
Both officers received “target letters some time ago,” Condon said. “I’m in wait-and-see mode. This is my No. 1 issue.”
City Council President Ben Stuckart said he’s still hoping Justice Department officials follow through with the request made by former Mayor Mary Verner to do a “pattern and practice” investigation of the police department.
“I don’t think we as a community can say, ‘Oh, Thompson got convicted and so the entire episode is closed,’ ” Stuckart said. “The full truth is going to have to come out to heal.”
Thompson arrived first that night at the Zip Trip, 1712 N. Division St., after two young women erroneously reported that Zehm had stolen money from a nearby ATM. A jury convicted Thompson after the video showed him strike the unarmed and retreating Zehm almost immediately in a struggle that later included six other officers.
On the night of the incident, McIntyre was one of dozens of officers who converged at the scene. Her responsibility was to review the videotape from the store’s surveillance cameras.
Federal prosecutors told the jury during Thompson’s trial that Thompson claimed Zehm “attacked” and “lunged” at him, which prompted him to use his baton. However, prosecutors say, after McIntyre viewed the video she told Thompson that it showed no lunge, and he stopped making that claim.
McIntyre testified three times before the grand jury in 2009. She admitted during her testimony at Thompson’s 2011 trial that she met with an assistant city attorney who suggested that she answer “I don’t recall” to questions about the incident, when in fact she did remember some portions of the event.
“So you lied?” said Victor Boutros, a Justice Department trial attorney.
McIntyre disagreed. “When you don’t recall 100 percent you don’t get a chance to explain. That’s what I wanted.”
As for Moses, he was one of the first officers to arrive after Zehm was subdued.
According to court testimony, Thompson told Moses – who considers Thompson a close friend – that he hit Zehm in the head with the baton. Moses later testified under oath to a grand jury about Thompson’s statements, which Moses also relayed to two ambulance workers, according to court testimony.
Moses testified at Thompson’s trial only after the U.S. Department of Justice obtained a waiver preventing him from seeking protection from self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. During his testimony, Moses claimed that federal prosecutors intimidated him into giving that grand jury testimony.
Reporter Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.