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Thursday, October 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Charges in fatal arrest involving seven Spokane officers await FBI

The Associated Press

SPOKANE — Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said Wednesday he will delay a decision on possible charges against police officers in a fatal arrest after learning that the FBI may have new evidence from its own investigation.

Tucker called a news conference to announce postponement of his decision on whether any of seven Spokane police officers involved in the fatal March arrest of Otto Zehm would face criminal charges.

The prosecutor said he had not yet made a decision but "was leaning toward" declining to file charges because of insufficient evidence when he learned recently of a parallel federal investigation.

"If they find something where I can make a charging decision under state law, we will. We will charge," Tucker told reporters.

The case has become a central issue in the re-election campaign of Tucker, a Republican, against Democratic challenger Bob Caruso.

The case also prompted an independent review of Spokane Police Department policies and procedures and resulted in changes in the way Spokane Fire Department paramedics treat patients involved in police scuffles.

The FBI said it may have new evidence from a witness interview and wants to review surveillance videotapes of the March 18 event in a Spokane convenience store, Tucker said.

Zehm, a 36-year-old mentally disabled janitor, stopped breathing and lapsed into a coma after being beaten, shocked with a Taser weapon and placed on his stomach for an extended period of time while hogtied. He never regained consciousness and died two days later.

Medical Examiner Dr. Sally Aiken ruled the death a homicide resulting from lack of oxygen to the brain as a result of heart failure while Zehm was being restrained on his stomach.

Tucker said the FBI told him its investigation will take at least 30 days to complete.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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