SPOKANE, Washington (AP) — A police officer was sentenced Thursday to more than four years in prison for using excessive force against a mentally disabled janitor who died after being erroneously suspected of stealing money from an ATM.
Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to four years and three months.
The 65-year-old Thompson was convicted last year by a federal jury of violating Otto Zehm's civil rights by using excessive force and then lying to investigators in the case.
Six years ago, Zehm was beaten and stunned by Thompson, then hog-tied and sat on by other officers until he passed out. The 36-year-old died two days later without regaining consciousness.
Zehm had committed no crime.
On March 18, 2006, police received a report that a man matching Zehm's description might have stolen money from an ATM. Surveillance video showed Thompson found Zehm inside a convenience store and immediately struck him repeatedly with a baton and shocked him with a stun gun.
Other officers arrived and hogtied Zehm, put a rubber mask over his mouth, and sat on him. Zehm passed out and died two days later without regaining consciousness. It was later determined that he had not committed the crime.
His last words were: "All I wanted was a Snickers bar," according to trial testimony.
Anger boiled in the community about the death of Zehm, but the Spokane County prosecutor's office declined to bring charges against any officers.
Amid continuing demands for justice, federal prosecutors eventually charged Thompson with violating Zehm's civil rights through use of excessive force and then lying to investigators.
Prosecutors also alleged the case involved an extensive cover-up by police. That investigation is ongoing.