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Ex-Cop Gets 4 Years for Attacking Unarmed Man

(CN) - A former police officer will serve over four years in prison for the death of an unarmed man whom he hogtied, Tasered and beat, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The 51-month sentence comes over a year after a federal jury convicted Karl Thompson Jr. of excessive force and lying in the ensuing investigation.

Thompson had confronted Otto Zehm on March 18, 2006, while responding to an ultimately false report involving a suspicious character at an ATM.

Zehm, 36, had gone to a convenience store to buy soda and snacks. Security cameras captured an ensuing struggle he had with the officer in which Thompson beat Zehm with a baton and Tasered him repeatedly.

Other officers then rushed in, tied up Zehm, placed a plastic mask over his face and sat on him until he stopped breathing, evidence showed. Zehm died a few days later.

Evidence showed that Thompson never asked Zehm any questions or even mentioned the ATM. Witnesses testified that Zehm's last words were: "all I wanted was a Snickers."

The Spokane County medical examiner ruled Zem's death a homicide, but local prosecutors refused to file charges against Thompson. The FBI eventually investigated the case and filed charges against Thompson for using unreasonable force and making a false statement.

Thompson claimed the beating was justified because he felt threatened by a plastic bottle of soda Zehm was holding. In his initial report, delivered after knowing Zehm had died, Thompson denied hitting Zehm in the head with his baton.

He said he would not have done that because such an action would have constituted unjustifiable deadly force.

Trial testimony established that Thompson admitted to another officer on-scene the night of the altercation that he had struck Zehm in the head and neck with his baton.

Witnesses and medical testimony also confirmed that the defendant had delivered baton blows to Zehm's head and neck.

U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle handed down the sentence from Spokane. Thompson was tried in Yakima over publicity concerns.

Justice Department attorney Victor Boutros prosecuted the case along with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy Durkin and Aine Ahmed of the Eastern District of Washington.

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