Spokane officer accused of lying about fatal beating of suspect

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SPOKANE — A second Spokane police officer has been accused of lying about the 2006 beating death of a man who was wrongly suspected of stealing money from a convenience store ATM.

Officer Timothy Moses was charged last week in Spokane Municipal Court with making a false statement. Arraignment is set for May 3.

The Spokesman-Review reported Thursday that Moses, 52, is accused of lying to FBI agents and federal prosecutors when he changed his story in 2010 to a version that was more favorable to his friend, officer Karl F. Thompson.

Thompson was convicted in federal court in 2011 of using excessive force against Otto Zehm and lying about the encounter to investigators.

Spokane County prosecutor Steve Tucker said the case was filed in municipal court as part of a deal between Moses and federal officials. Moses agreed to resign from the police department and plead guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for federal prosecutors dropping their pursuit of a felony charge, Tucker said.

Moses went on leave from the police force April 16.

Thompson was the first police officer to confront Zehm, 36, in a Spokane convenience story in 2006 and immediately attacked him with his baton. Other officers joined the attack and Zehm died two days later without regaining consciousness.

Moses told a grand jury under oath in 2009 that Thompson told him he felt threatened by Zehm because Zehm “lunged” at him with a Pepsi bottle. Store security video, along with witness statements, later showed no evidence that Zehm lunged toward Thompson before Thompson struck Zehm with a baton.

But in 2010, Moses told federal investigators that he no longer remembered Thompson using the word “lunge.”

Moses also reversed his position on baton strikes delivered by Thompson.

In 2009, Moses told the grand jury in sworn testimony that Thompson told him that he had struck Zehm in the head, neck and upper torso with his baton and that he relayed that information to the ambulance company that transported Zehm to the hospital. But in 2010, Moses met with federal officials and told them he no longer remembered telling an ambulance employee that Thompson had struck Zehm in the head, neck and upper torso.

Instead, Moses said he remembered Thompson saying that he struck Zehm in the “leg and then again a number of times all over,” according to an FBI report.

The location of the baton strikes is important. Striking an individual in the head with a baton is considered deadly force, which requires a higher threshold for justified use.

Moses testified at Thompson’s federal trial only after the U.S. Department of Justice obtained a waiver preventing him from seeking protection from self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. During his testimony, Moses said federal prosecutors intimidated him into giving that grand jury testimony.

U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby declined to comment on the case or the ongoing federal investigation involving the actions of other Spokane police officers.