Settlement reached in Otto Zehm case

News from Spokane, Washington

The city of Spokane has tentatively agreed to pay $1.67 million to the estate of Otto Zehm, a man with mental disabilities who died in a highly publicized, unprovoked violent encounter with Spokane Police more than six years ago.

On March 18, 2006, two women falsely accused Zehm of stealing money from an ATM. Moments later, police officers batoned and Tasered him in a Spokane convenience store, while other officers held him to the ground on his stomach for several minutes before he stopped breathing, as described by the Spokesman Review. Zehm died two days later.

The Center for Justice filed a civil lawsuit against nine Spokane police officers, which triggered a Department of Justice investigation that found an extensive cover up. One officer was convicted in November of using excessive force and lying to investigators, while two other officers face obstruction charges.

Along with the monetary settlement, announced May 16, the city has also agreed to provide an apology to Zehm’s mother, spend $200,000 to train police officers in “crisis intervention training” and hire a consultant to assist with Mayor David Condon’s recently appointed Use of Force Commission.

“From the very first month after Otto’s death, (Zehm’s) mother asked me to do two things. First, get the City to agree that what happened to her son was wrong and should not happen again. And secondly to make sure that there were enough changes in policy and training and city attitude that it would be unlikely that any other family in Spokane would go through what she’s had to go through,” said Breen Beggs, the Center for Justice’s former executive director who has continued to represent Ann Zehm and the Zehm family, in a news release. “Today, she was so pleased to hear that the city has taken the first firm steps toward that.”