SPOKANE, Wash. — As jurors may be close to reaching a verdict in the trial of Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson in his federal excessive force trial, authorities locally stand ready in case the public reacts violently to the verdict.
On Tuesday, after just four hours of deliberations, the jury asked to take another look at the surveillance video taken inside the Zip Trip convenience store where the confrontation between Thompson and Otto Zehm happened in March 2006. They also wanted to hear Thompson’s formal statement to investigators.
Four days after confronting Zehm, Thompson sat down to tell investigators exactly what happened that night.
“The suspect originally had his back to me, he appeared to be reaching for something on the shelf. He turned around and I saw what he was holding,” Thompson said.
Zehm had picked up a pop bottle and was holding each end with one hand. Thompson perceived it as a possible weapon.
“I’m ordering him to drop the bottle which he’s holding at chest level in both hands and he tells me why? And I immediately said drop it now! I said it twice as loud drop in now!”
However prosecutors have said Thompson’s statement doesn’t match what’s seen in the surveillance video and contend Thompson was lying to investigators. Now the jury has asked to see the video and hear the recording to they can make a side by side comparison for themselves.
It’s a sign they’re far enough along to have developed questions about both charges.
One of the things the judge told the jury not to worry about is why type of punishment Thompson would receive if convicted. Thompson faces up to ten years in prison for depriving Zehm of his civil rights and / or a $250,000 fine.
Thompson could get up to 20 years in prison if convicted of lying to investigators.
The jury could have additional requests, including wanting to hear transcripts of the testimony offered during trial, which is why Judge Fred Van Sickle has asked attorneys to be within 10 minutes of the courthouse whenever jurors are deliberating.
As the jury continues to deliberate in Yakima, city leaders here in Spokane have been preparing for the verdict for the past two weeks.
Both the Spokane Police and Fire Departments have created a plan in case the public reacts violently to the jury’s decision.
Spokane police train for riots and out of control crowds; its practice they hope they never have to use. However they are well aware communities have reacted violently to a jury’s verdict before.
It happened in 1992 in Los Angeles, when thousands took to the streets in violent protest of the acquittal of four police officers accused of beating Rodney King.
Spokane police and firefighters have been meeting for two weeks preparing a plan if citizens react violently to the verdict in Thompson’s trial.
“We would rather be prepared for nothing than not prepared for something big. It’s just talking with city fire, regional law enforcement so if there is some sort of civil unrest disturbance we need to be prepared to handle it because we need to keep all the citizens safe,” Spokane Police spokesperson Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said.
Police declined to get into specifics about the plan, but the department’s well trained tactical team has been notified it will be needed in the unlikely case of rioting.
“We want to be prepared for the worst case scenario,” Assistant Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said. “Hopefully it won’t occur, but hope isn’t the worst strategy, and we’ve learned from our predecessors and people across the country it’s important for police and fire to be at the same table and be prepared.”
Spokane police officers are being reminded at daily roll calls a verdict is close and to be prepared for heightened emotions in the community. Officers are being told not to be baited into arguments over the verdict with citizens.
“Sometimes people try to take out their emotions on police officers and if it’s related to the Karl Thompson trial, officers are reminded to be courteous, remain professional and not get into a big bickering match I think is the bottom line,” DeRuwe said.