Purple Heart Recipient Jed Zillmer: American Tragedy

Purple Heart Recipient Jed Zillmer: American Tragedy February 15, 2014


His life ended in a one-sided shoot-out.

Police said he wanted it that way.

They said Afghanistan war veteran Jed Zillmer was on a suicidal mission: Kill or be killed.

He was allegedly heavily armed and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, although that had never been diagnosed.

Before a claim of PTSD can be confirmed it has to be reported – by the very person suffering from it. Go figure.

Zillmer had filed a claim. Said he’d lost a toe after his foot was shot during a gun battle in Afghanistan that took the life of one of his buddies. The nation awarded him a Purple Heart for the injury. The Army denied him disability benefits for that same injury. When Zillmer fought back – the way the military taught him to do – he was denied a second time, by a Federal judge. No conflict of interest there.

You might be asking yourself how come this hasn’t made national headlines. Then again, you might shrug your shoulders and walk away from Zillmer’s death, figuring, Oh, well, another crazy veteran bites the dust.

Zillmer was studying at the local community college. He had married his sweetheart Katie in a little ceremony but they were in the throes of planning a big shindig summer wedding. Instead Katie spent Valentine’s Day being comforted by family and friends, planning a funeral.

Police say they had to kill him, had to stop him before he killed somebody. They were worried he might be headed for Spokane Valley Mall, might take out his frustrations on unsuspecting civilians. Perhaps they are right. Recent history tells us though, our mass shootings haven’t been done by war veterans. Our worst mass shootings have been carried out for the most part by blood-thirsty boys who never served a day in a war zone. Recent history also tells us that law-enforcement in Spokane tend to be a trigger-happy group. Wise civilians know better than to get into a skirmish with Spokane law-enforcement. That’s a generalization, of course, but one built upon facts.

Zillmer’s friends are shocked.

It seems the people who love a person best are always the last ones to know how deep is the darkness that envelops their loved ones.

That Zillmer was frustrated over the legal wranglings of  applying for and being denied benefits is without question.

We teach our boys and girls to fight. We give them weapons with which to do that fighting. Then when they come home, we act all shocked when the only way they know how to cope is with a pointed gun.

An investigation is underway now but early reports explain Zillmer’s death this way:


Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Zillmer was suicidal and believed to be heavily armed when they started the pursuit. Zillmer called dispatch at the start of the pursuit around 7 p.m. and told them he was suicidal, heavily armed and wanted to commit suicide by cop, even saying he would shoot civilians if it took too long for deputies to shoot him. That’s why deputies stopped him at Indiana and Sullivan before he traveled into a more populated area. When they stopped him, Zillmer got out of his vehicle and pointed a gun at himself and adjusted his bulletproof vest. “Doing that, officers opened fire because there was some kind of movement,” Knezovich said.


Zillmer never opened fire. He had the gun pointed at himself, not them. We don’t know whether he was “heavily-armed” or not. But if the facts are as alleged here, then law-enforcement knew they were dealing with a suicidal person. Why do they shoot to kill? Why do they not shoot to disable?

The irony of it all is that Zillmer will likely be given a military burial, with folded flag and 21-gun salute. Unless, of course, the military denies him that benefit, too.

Jed Zillmer was a kid.

Jed Zillmer fought for his country.

Jed Zillmer returned to a nation ill-equipped to deal with the injuries he suffered as a result of his service. And I’m not talking about his foot.

Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide in the land of the free and the brave.

Imagine a gunman walking into an elementary school and killing dead an entire First Grade classroom every single day.

That’s what 22 veterans a day looks like. It looks like the slaughter of young boys and young girls.

As young Zillmer tragically learned, the real battlefield isn’t in Afghanistan, or even Iraq.

The highest incident of soldier bloodshed is right here on U.S. soil.

Jed & Katie Zillmer

Karen Spears Zacharias is a Gold-Star Daughter and the author of After the Flag has been Folded (Wm.Morrow).

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  • King_Hussein

    “Why do they shoot to kill? Why do they not shoot to disable?”

    Because it’s a good way to end up dead.

    This isn’t a Hollywood Western where the good guys can shoot the gun out of somebody’s hand. It is exceedingly difficult to shoot somebody in a limb with a handgun and guaranteed to not kill them. They can turn their gun on you and quickly kill several officers. Is that a risk you would ask them to take?

    P.S. Having 3 guns on your person and more in the car is not “allegedly” heavily armed; it’s a plan to go out with a bang.

    • In this case, yes.

    • Russell

      “They can turn their gun on you and quickly kill several officers. Is that a risk you would ask them to take?”

      That is a risk that they are willing to take, that is why the job is so dangerous.

      But if we set a precedent that it’s legal to shoot people just because you ‘think’ that they might turn there gun on you, then we’re giving the police officers authority to decide if someone should live or die.

      If we reenforce the current standard, which is not to shoot someone unless they pose a threat to the officer or someone else (not themselves), then, as in this case, the officers said that the veteran had not turned his weapon on them, and yet the officers shot him regardless, and therefore, have murdered, according to this system. But, as we know, police officers are not held to the same standards as citizens.

      We cannot allow people to shoot eachother because they are afraid, or because they ‘think” the other person “can” turn their gun.

      The Spokane police have a cultural problem of violence, and one that manifests within the psyche, as is evidenced by their arrest statistics, and their history of unchecked violence.

      Thank you for the very well written and critical Karen.

      • Russell: Thank you for your articulate contribution to this disturbing matter. As a former cop reporter I have the highest regard for law enforcement, and the job they do. But as we both have noted, Spokane law enforcement has a history of overreacting – shooting first, asking questions later. I would have thought some of that would have been addressed after Rev. Creach was killed but it is a culture that is cultivated from the top down. When you instill fear in your force they react out of fear. It seems to me that when a person takes time to call 911 to report that they are suicidal that what they are looking for is help – not to be gunned down in their hometown. Jed Zillmer did not shoot at anyone. Six officers shot at him. Spokane citizens need to ask themselves who is the source of the real threat to them? Jed Zillmer or the police tasked with protecting them?

        • “The problem of toxic leadership…will be a cancer in any social organization that lacks the mechanisms for controlling it.”

          Toxic Leaders And The Social Environments That Breed Them | Forbes | 1/10/2014

        • Amy Myers

          Karen, if you are a former “cop reporter”, then you know that if you call and make a threat like Jed did, the police MUST take the threat seriously. You said Jed made the threat to shoot civilians if it took too long for police to shoot him. LE cannot take the risk of “shooting to disable” someone who is armed and has threatened to shoot unarmed citizens. The number of completed suicides by veterans and service members is high because most use deadly force – either self inflicted or as in this case, suicide by cop. Jed’s suicide is tragic, but to portray LE as the “bad guys” is not helping anyone heal.

          • Amy: I never said anywhere that Jed made the threat to shoot civilians if it took too long for the police to shoot him. That has been reported but not by me and I question the veracity of such reports. And Amy, this wasn’t a case of suicide by a cop. This was a case of a man holding a gun on himself being shot down by six cops. Facts, people.

          • Amy Myers

            Karen, you include the quote in your story. If you doubt the veracity, why include it?
            It is a tragedy that this young man is dead, but he left the officers very few options. He was by his own report, armed suicidal and possibly homicidal. You admit you don’t know the young man or his family – yet you come to so many sweeping conclusions about his state of mind and other aspects of the situation. Your accusations of the systems that interacted with this young man are shrewd, since none of the professionals involved can defend themselves due to privacy laws.

          • Amy: Spokane law enforcement have a documented history of shooting first, asking questions later. I do include some of the news reports in the story but I also know from my experience as a journalist that when an event like this takes place the journalist is usually quoting whatever police tell them. It isn’t until days/weeks later as the reporter has time to further investigate a story such as this that more information comes forward. We do have the video of the event that verifies that Jed did not point his gun at law enforcement. So how is it they are justified in killing him? He called them to report he was suicidal. If you really want to kill yourself you usually don’t call anybody. That call was a cry for help. He’d been crying out for help for sometime. (And btw: No, I didn’t know the family when I wrote this but family members have been in touch with me since).

          • nugent

            The report about Jed making threats to shoot civilians if police didn’t shoot him first came from Ozzie himself. So if you don’t believe it then I guess you think Ozzie is outright lying? Can’t imagine he would be dumb enough to do that… I think you should do some fact checking yourself before you just assume… You also fail to take into account the police officers involved in this. They are humans. Do you think they wanted this to happen? I have several close friends in law enforcement across the state and most of them are veterans themselves. I can only imagine the pain the involved officers are going through from being put in this position to have to take the life of a brother. Sad all the way around

          • I have not for one second discounted that the law enforcement involved are human too. It is exactly my concern that they are human – and thus like all of us, flawed – that leads me to ponder the what ifs here. I don’t think for a minute that any officer wanted to shoot a 23-year old emotionally distraught kid. Nor do I think for a minute that Jed Zillmer wanted to be gunned down. It is sad all the way around. Sad but not uncommon. So we can light more candles, hold another vigil, put another child in the ground, hand his young widow a folded flag and go about telling ourselves he’s at rest now when nothing could be further from the truth. What I want to know is how can any of us rest knowing that more soldiers are losing their lives on US soil than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. We are doing this to ourselves. To our children. To our neighbor’s children. But when it comes to really addressing the issues of cases like Jed, people are all to quick to shrug their shoulders and say, Oh, well, he was asking for it. Which, of course is ludicrous. He was asking for someone to hear him. For someone to help him manage a way to deal with the nightmares he had witnessed. Someone to help him make sense of a world that seemed so totally out of his control. But the thing is, we don’t know how to do that. That takes time and that requires listening. It takes someone skilled in dealing with PTSD or mental health issues and by golly millions have been cut from those programs as states have had to choose between more patrol care or more mental health facilities. So yes, it is sad. It is more than sad. It is an American Tragedy. Jed Zillmer did not start this. He did not finish this. He was simply a kid who served his country and came home to a country who failed to acknowledge that service. Some vets can cope with that. Others take their lives. The good news? The military who denied him benefits will give him a terrific send off, replete with 21-gun salute and a folded flag. A few medals for the young widow. They will have to suffice as the thing she holds close to her heart at night. Not Jed. I am not looking for blame. I know who is to blame for this. Every single voting member of the American public.

          • Amy Myers

            You’re inaccurate in your comment about people who are suicidal. Many people who are truly suicidal do call for help. Many don’t. Calling for help is not an indication that you are not actually suicidal.

          • Brian Ponder

            There is so much to say. I will miss my son. Police need to work on these kinda of events.
            What is truly clear to me is that out country is letting many of our vets down.
            My son? I’m sorry I let you down.
            My eyes are open.

          • Brian: I am sorry. I know those words are of little use. I remember how they used to upset me in the wake of my father’s death in Vietnam. As a child I couldn’t understand why everyone kept apologizing. As an adult I understand that we should all be sorry when good people die. When they die as a result of war, we should all be that much more sorry. As William Stafford once said: Every war had two losers. Sometimes I wish we had a collective wailing wall for the nation, the way Jerusalem does. A place where we could all go and collectively grieve. The Vietnam Wall is the closest thing we have to that. I didn’t know Jed Zillmer at all. But I know dozens of veterans with similar tales of going off to war and coming home to a community that could not understand what they had been through.They live daily with nightmares I cannot even imagine. The surgeon who operated on my father in the battlefield sleeps with the light on. Every night since 1966. Even yet. There are things he cannot speak of, Will never tell me about my own father’s death. It pains him too much. So I get it. I know that those with the most tender hearts are often those most adversely affected by war.
            It is obvious to me without even knowing him that Jed was tender-hearted.
            Yes, law enforcement must find a better way of handling cases like Jed. Shooting a kid who is unable to handle the nightmares of war is not a solution to the problem. It only exacerbates the problem. So now instead of one man traumatized – we have dozens of traumatized law enforcement people. The best cops never want to kill anyone. They want to protect people.
            Jed Zillmer needed a protector the night he was gunned down. He didn’t get that.
            Yes, the VA system is convoluted, confusing, frustrating and all too often only adds to the problems veterans are seeking help for.
            When my own mother was dying, I need to clarify with the VA what the procedure would be for her funeral – so she could be buried with my father. I spent an hour on hold. One complete hour. Only to be told I didn’t have the correct person. I needed to call XXX…
            And so it goes.
            My best advice to veterans looking for help with claims is to not file it themselves but rather to go to their nearest DAV office and get help filing the claim. The DAV do an excellent job.
            But there is no magic to this. Claims are often denied the first time round. Experienced veterans know this. It’s almost a mantra among them: File it again, they say.
            And again.
            Our young vets go off to war and expect that their communities will do as they promise when they send them off — support them when they get home.
            Instead, veterans and their families are often left to cope on their own. It can be very isolating.
            Add to that the issue of being a sniper, and the question of morality and the sense of how can I ever feel like a good person again after I’ve killed another human being, and well, you can see how very convoluted all of this can be for a young veteran.
            We all owed Jed Zillmer better. He served to protect us. Then when he needed protection, we failed him. All of us. Every single person in this nation who has a voice & a vote failed Jed Zillmer.
            I am so, so sorry for your loss. And yes, I understand apologies are meaningless when what you long for is a warm embrace from your loved one.
            We must do better. We must fight for those who fought for us.

          • nugent

            You’re putting off as facts, things you don’t know are facts. Being a journalist I would expect you not to assume anything until the investigation is complete. So far in your article and comments you’ve assumed a lot, which is not only unfair and damaging, it is bad journalism. Unless your goal is to inflammate and sensationalize in which case you have succeeded. It’s unfortunate because outside of your blatant bias against local law enforcement it’s actually a very good article.

          • Stephen Gerard

            Karen read your report. You quoted Knezovich as saying “wanted to commit suicide by cop, even saying he would shoot civilians if it took too long for deputies to shoot him.” Sounds like he made threats to civilians. So as you so eloquently stated…FACTS PEOPLE. As I stated previously I was friends with Jed and honestly think this is a tragedy, but please understand that when someone makes a threat to civilians and has multiple weapons on him LE will act with force. Not due to the weapon, but due to the threats he made. Maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong, but I guarantee you that in almost any city the same thing would have occurred.

        • nugent

          “It seems to me that when a person takes time to call 911 to report that
          they are suicidal that what they are looking for is help”

          I was listening to the scanner that night and unfortunately, based on the radio traffic, you are very wrong about this.

      • King_Hussein

        Look, this is pure tragedy. The young man was apparently struggling with mental health issues, quite possibly PTSD as the result of his combat experience. My sympathies go to his fiancée, family and friends.

        Explain this artificial distinction between “thinking” someone is going to shoot you and “posing a threat.” The man was a combat veteran proficient with small arms who had made threats to kill. That is an imminent threat to the officers who must stop him and the community at large. I think we both know what Russell would be saying about LE if they had allowed Jed Zillmer in the Spokane Valley Mall where he started shooting people.

        This looks like suicide by cop. I’m not LE but I guarantee you these officers have far more training and professionalism than you can understand or give them credit for. Don’t blame the people protecting you for doing their jobs and probably saving innocent lives in the process.

      • Daniel Winegardner

        To help add to your point… As an army vet. I was held to that standard. which, was not to shoot someone unless they pose a threat and I was in Iraq. Why would police officers not be held to the same!!!!

        • A very good and an important question, Daniel.

        • Avboden

          So, you don’t believe a man armed with multiple weapons and wearing body armor is a threat? You’re joking right? It doesn’t matter where that gun is pointed, it’s a threat. Especially after leading the police on a chase. He was a soldier, he had the abilities to take out multiple officers in a heartbeat, that’s not a threat? Shooting to disable doesn’t work for obvious reasons. The police truly had no choice. I knew Jed, it’s the military that failed him, not the police. The police did their job.

        • nugent

          They are held to the same standard. And I would think if you were in Iraq and encountered someone with several guns you would consider that person a threat?

      • Steve

        Thank you both for your statements. I understand it is not an easy job to be a policeman, Sheriff’s deputy, or state patrol officer. The police can make a justified kill, but that doesn’t make it right. I was in the infantry in Viet Nam. The shoot/no shoot is not always as clear as it sounds in the hollywood westerns and wounding them is not easy. There was a sniper present. there have been cases where under the same circumstances they have successfully use bean bag shot and sniper wounds to handle the case. The police made the statement that he had not yet pointed his pistol at them, he adjusted his vest and they were afraid he was going to shoot. I appreciate the police but locally they are getting to be bullies. Try to disagree with a cop and you will end up in handcuffs. That is not necessary to police the community in a fair manner. It was a righteous kill and it is a sick tragedy that really didn’t have to happen.

  • jwilliams

    Katie Zillmer is my daughter; Jed Zillmer is my son-in-law. It breaks my heart to think of all the things they planned that will never be. Thanks Karen for writing so beautifully about this issue.

    • Mr. Williams: I am so saddened for you all. I know all too well the trauma war can inflict upon families. Altho, I don’t know you, did not know your son-in-law, it does seem I have borne witness to stories like Zed’s over and over again. This country should be alarmed by the high incident of bloodshed of soldiers taking place right here on US soil. The military who denied him benefits, denied him help, will now give Zed full military honors in the form of a funeral. My deepest convalescences for you all. We owe our soldiers and their families better than being gunned down in the streets of their own hometowns.

    • Michael Brian Woywood

      Mr. Williams, your pain and your daughter’s pain are shared by the entire community of veterans. Many of us have dedicated ourselves to ensuring that NOT ONE MORE veteran dies by his or her own hand. I am so sorry for the tragedy that has befallen your family. I hope Jed has found peace.

    • Melanie McNichols-Brown

      Mr. Williams, I am married to Jeds uncle, I have never met your daughter…My heart goes out to her…this is a great loss for so many of us. Please tell Katie that even though I don’t know her, I really wished that I could hug her & give her another shoulder to lean on…I am thinking of her very much right now. I hope that in time she can find peace in his memories…I know that nothing can really make this better or easier for her…bless her for loving him as she does & wanting to share her life with him…I am so very sorry for her loss!!

  • Avboden

    “Why do they shoot to kill? Why do they not shoot to disable?”

    Because they are trained if you have to use deadly force, you make it deadly. It’s really quite simple, if you’re in a situation where a gun is required, you empty your clip and shoot to kill, to do otherwise leaves far too much of a grey area when guns are involved.

    So say they shoot his legs out….he’s still holding a gun. See the problem? Now with PTSD what is a soldier trained to do when shot at? Shoot back…. I can’t overstate enough that shooting to disable is not an option, it doesn’t work and it’s not safe for anyone involved.

    I really wish you could separate the lack of mental healthcare in our country from the police response. Blaming the police is absurd in this case, they truly had no choice. You can play the what if the but if they, all those games, but it won’t help. I knew Jed, I went to highschool with him, and I don’t blame the police for this, it’s not their fault. In fact, I feel sorry for them, that they had to be put into that situation at all. Simple fact is a person wearing body armor and armed leads them on a chase and exits a vehicle, there’s no time to think “well he’s just a veteran with PTSD and they don’t realllly kill people right” no, there’s an immediate threat that has to be ended then and there. The fact that he didn’t aim his gun at police doesn’t matter one bit. He wasn’t obeying instructions, he was a danger to himself and others. End of story.

    That is why to write this the way you have is just absurd. Concentrate on the tragedy of the military’s failure with him. Don’t blame the police for doing their job.

    • I would agree with you were it not for the documented (& recent) history of problems deep within Spokane’s law enforcement community. The Spokesman Review had done a good job of covering all that. So it’s easy to look up if you are unfamiliar with it. That said, the blame for Jed’s death does not belong to Jed. It belongs on the shoulder of you and me and every other person able to vote and speak out. It is our responsibility to see that our disabled veterans get the care they need. Had Jed lost a limb in war, he would have rec’d sympathy. He would have rec’d his disability. But when you are dealing with PTSD or any other form of mental instability as a result of war, it is all too common to deny that disability. Listen, I’ve worked with veterans on these very issues for the past 15 years. I know for a fact that we didn’t even acknowledge the physical damages of Agent Orange until 2002-2003. This after men had been dying left and right from cancers and heart attacks and diabetes, all traceable to the use of Agent Orange. So I understand how difficult it is for veterans to get the help they need. For the past six months I have been making trips back and forth to the VA in Boise with a veteran who needs help. The DAV helped him file a claim in August. He just this past week got a letter saying, sorry we are so slow. I could go on and on, documenting the failures in the system. But you know who controls the system? The voting public does. When voters tire of losing the lives of young men like Jed then and only then will we demand change. Until then, the voting public goes about their day worrying about what outrageous thing Miley Cyrus and Justin Beiber have done now. I am not saying the law enforcement is solely to blame here. But any investigation with any veracity at all will prove that they could have and should have handled this situation differently. Just like they did with Rev. Creach. But the bigger issue — that of getting our emotionally unstable veterans the help they need – is up to us and our votes and our voices. I’m using mine. What are you doing?

      • Avboden

        “I would agree with you were it not for the documented (& recent) history of problems deep within Spokane’s law enforcement community”

        And right there you just lost all credibility. So because of previous issues, they can never do something correctly? They are never ever allowed to use guns again?

        Listen to yourself. Be impartial, forget where the cops are from or their history. Pretend you’re reading about what happened in some random city somewhere else, would you be blaming the cops then? No, no you wouldn’t.

        I’m very well aware of the issues SPD has, GUESS WHAT? IT WASN’T SPD! IT WAS SPOKANE COUNTY SHERIFF!!! And you call yourself a reporter….it’s really angering that you contribute to the cop hating when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.

        PS: Creach was shot by a Spokane VALLEY police officer. Not even SPD, and not Spokane County Sheriff. Really, do some damn research for once.

        Jed was failed by the military and by our lack of mental healthcare, NOTHING more. The police correctly did their job. You’re absolutely blind if you can’t see that they had no choice.

        • How do you know the police did their job correctly? What facts do you have? What investigations have you done? Where you on the scene? Did you interview people? Do you know what all Jed said that night? Do you know how many weapons he had? Did you count the ammo? Can you read his mind? How do you know he was a threat to anyone other than himself?

          • Avboden

            “How do you know he was a threat to anyone other than himself?”

            Because he led the police on a chase, didn’t follow instructions and exited the vehicle wearing body armor with a weapon drawn. Those are facts. He was a threat, period. I say this as a former friend of his, truly. You’re on a witch hunt and it’s really pathetic.

            btw, I notice you didn’t even respond to the fact that I called you out on not understanding anything about the various agencies of police in this region. Instead you pulled out the “well you weren’t there neener neener” argument that’s seriously grade school level. Guess what, you weren’t there either, and yet you’re absolutely convinced the cops did wrong, and you’re vilifying them as such. That’s not what Jed would want. He would want the attention on the military and healthcare system, not on the police that properly did their job.

          • Spokane police watchdog reappointed, details jump in internal complaints

            Posted by Nick in Sirens & Gavels

            Aug. 20, 2013 12:56 p.m. • 2 comments

            Last night was a big one for Tim Burns, the Spokane Police ombudsman.

            He was reappointed for another one-year term, setting him off on his fifth year as the civilian watchdog for Spokane police. Burns was appointed for a three-year term in 2009 by then-Mayor Mary Verner. His one year extension last night came from Mayor David Condon and a unanimous vote by the City Council.

            Burns also unveiled his 2013 mid-year report, which contained some surprising numbers.

            First, of the 142 complaints against the department in the first six months of the year, 75 were classified as formal. Of those 75, 15 came from within the department. This is a huge jump when compared to the same time period last year, when just three complaints were internally generated, of 46 total complaints.

            Burns told the City Council the increase was notable, but he was unable to say what might be driving the change.

            Burns also noted a decrease in taser use by police, which happened 14 times in 11 incidents this year. In the first six months of 2012, a taser was used 25 times in 21 incidents.

            Finally, Burns said he was concerned by the increase in SWAT activations. In the first half of 2012, SWAT was called out 21 times. This year, it happened 29 times.

            Otto Zehm Beating: Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. Sentenced In Death Of Man With Mental Disabilities

            By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS 11/15/12 09:14 PM ET EST
            Huffington Post

            Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. has been sentenced to four years and three months in prison in the 2006 beating death of Otto Zehm.

            SPOKANE, Wash. — 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., 65, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to four years and three months for his role in the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.

            Van Sickle said he hoped the sentence would begin to bring closure to Zehm’s family and to the Spokane community, which has been at odds with the police department as a result of this case and others.

            “This had a significant impact on the community and how it viewed its police department,” Van Sickle said.

            Van Sickle also ordered that Thompson be taken into custody immediately, over the objections of defense lawyers, who wanted him to remain free while the verdict is appealed.

            Thompson was convicted last year by a federal jury of violating 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 in a convenience store. He was 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.

            Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich argued for a sentence of zero to 16 months, saying there was no evidence presented that the actions of Thompson led directly to Zehm’s death.

            Thompson addressed the court, apologizing to Zehm’s mother. “I did not intend to harm Mr. Zehm that night, and did not act in malice,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to protection of the public.”

            Thompson is a Vietnam veteran and a decorated 40-year veteran of law enforcement in Los Angeles, northern Idaho and Spokane, Oreskovich said. “This man before you is not a villain,” Oreskovich told the judge.

            But federal prosecutors noted that Thompson attacked Zehm without warning, and struck him repeatedly with a 30-inch baton and also stunned him.

            “There were seven baton strikes in less than eight seconds,” said Tim Durkin, an assistant U.S. attorney. “There is compelling medical evidence in this case that Mr. Zehm sustained serious bodily injury.”

            Prosecutors sought a sentence of nine to 11 years because of the seriousness of the attack on Zehm, and its impact on the community.

            “When officers abuse their power and lie to cover it up, it fundamentally undermines” their position of trust in the community, said Victor Boutros, a Justice Department attorney who helped prosecute the case.

            On March 18, 2006, police received a report that a man matching Zehm’s description might have stolen money from people at an ATM. Surveillance video showed that 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. It was later determined that he had not committed any crime.

            His last words were: “All I wanted was a Snickers bar,” according to trial testimony.

            Anger boiled in the community over the death, but the Spokane County prosecutor’s office declined to bring charges against any officers. Amid 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.

            Boutros said it was important to remember that Zehm, a mentally ill janitor, had committed no crime.

            “He was just going in as he always did to buy his soda and his candy,” Boutros said. Thompson’s actions warranted prison time, he said.

            “A badge cannot equate to a free pass,” Boutros said.

            And for more:



            Shall I keep going?

          • Avboden

            hey you can copy paste, congratulations!

            You’re still ignoring all logic. You’re blinded by your inherent distrust of police. You have to look at things situationally. Pretend you’re reading about this in another town, ignore history, are you still blindly accusing police then? Wait, you already answered that yourself

            “I would agree with you were it not for the documented (& recent) history of problems deep within Spokane’s law enforcement community. ”

            You’re really just slandering them, it’s borderline illegal. They did right on this case and you even admitted that, but simply won’t admit it because of THE PAST. Every situation is unique, your refusal to see that makes you a very poor and bias journalist.

          • Borderline illegal? Which law enforcement agency do you work for?

            RE: my paranoia around law enforcement, or my hatred for them – do your own homework.

            But consider this, at the point police stopped Zilmer he was not a danger to the public in any way. He was surrounded by police. He had given police plenty of warning that he was suicidal. Why not try and get him help? Why was the first response for six officers to unload their guns on him?

            You keep wanting me to pretend this happened in a community that has not had a history of problems with its law enforcement community. You want me to blindly trust that the officers did the right thing. Officers have to earn that trust from their community. The public needs to know that law enforcement is acting out of the best interest of the public. That trust is eroded in the greater Spokane community and has been for sometime.

            But that is not the sole problem here. See Russell’s remarks. Consider that yes the same military that will provide Jed Zillmer with full military funeral rights denied him his benefits while living. So I guess we have some insight into why 22 soldiers a day are killing themselves. It’s cheaper for taxpayers to foot their funerals than it is for us to foot the bill for their care.

          • nugent

            Pretty hard for those officers to “earn the public’s trust” when reporters like you continuously hammer them in the media. You are contributing to the erosion of that public trust instead of helping people to move forward. In your comments above you even referenced the Otto Zehm case? What possible link could that tragedy have to this one? The answer: NONE!! It isn’t even involving the same LE agency. The fact that you chose to include your bias in this article is a disservice to the family of this soldier and to the community. And it takes away from the what I think was the real point of your article, helping our veterans get the care they need.

          • It is not the job of a journalist to build public trust. That’s the job of the Public Relations folks. As to the real point of the article, I’m not the one who has sidetracked off that. I have been very focused in on the issues veterans face long before Jed Zillmer was gunned down.

          • nugent

            It is however the job of a journalist to be impartial and report facts. By inserting your opinion and assuming “facts” about local law enforcement, you unnecessarily went off topic and opened a separate can of worms. I appreciate the article as a whole, I just wish it did not include unrealistic expectations of people who put themselves in harms way so that you don’t have to.

          • It is the job of the journalist to be impartial and report the facts. It is the job of the editorial writer to assess the facts & state an opinion. This is a blog where I do the later and not the former. And I am not of the opinion that it is perfectly reasonable to expect a 23-year old in the US to get help and not gunned down in the process. Now if you are talking about Syria…

          • Kristen H

            The “military” is not the granting agency for benefits. The VA is. They are not one and the same.

          • Stephen Gerard

            Ok so the police have had issues in the past. Can you honestly say if a person got out of a car with a weapon and had threatened to shoot civilians if he was not shot that you would not shoot them? I guarantee you are the type of person that would be pissed at the police if they hadn’t shot him and then he shot civilians. Yes the SPD has had issues, but this is one you have to look at the facts.

          • nugent

            I think you should ask yourself all those same questions before jumping to conclusions. Especially when there is zero reason to think police did anything wrong in this particular case.

          • Stephen Gerard

            As stated by dispatch in the article “wanted to commit suicide by cop, even saying he would shoot civilians if it took too long for deputies to shoot him.” When he gets out of the car and moves towards his chest how are they supposed to know what he is doing? Everything that he himself stated would lead one to believe that if he was not shot then he would kill others to get shot. This really is a tragedy. I know Jed in high school and he was a good kid. Unfortunately he felt the only way out was to be shot by police. Police had no choice, but it should never had reached this point. Military really needs to get their stuff together.

          • Kristen H

            Face it, you don’t know the answers to any of those questions, either. What facts do you have? You weren’t on the scene. Who did you interview? You don’t know Jed, or what he said, had with him or what was on his mind. And neither did the police. If you are law enforcement and someone shows up with a weapon and a bullet proof vest, do you wait until he has shot you? NO. You meet deadly force with deadly force. There is no “shoot for the kneecaps”. That’s for the movies. Police officers want to go home to thier families every night (with their own PTSD, by the way – law enforcement has one of the highest rates of PTSD of any profession).

          • Cheryl s.

            Karen, you are demonstrating why people should not trust the media. You don’t have your facts straight. Your article is an opinion piece or simply creative writing. Unless you have been through a Federal trial, you have no idea what facts were used, refused and/or released. You are assuming you have all the facts of past cases because … you read the news article? I don’t know where you went to school to be a ‘journalist’ but you are doing a disservice to the job and your readers. Multiple agencies were involved in Zillerman’s situation. Zillerman made a decision to die that day. He was a veteran that was let down by his country, but it wasn’t the police who were in the wrong that day. They did their job and it was a righteous shooting. You have only caused a distraction from the real problem. Please go back to school to learn the difference between creative writing and journalism. You are causing more damage than good.

        • Steve

          You are obviously in favor of shoot to kill/ center of mass/ everybody shoot. That’s BS. This was not Al Qaeda. This was an upset, drunk, young man that had his wife leave him as well as the other problems. He was salvageable with a non lethal bean bag shot. This has been used elsewhere. He was contained and could not escape. He adjusted his vest and 6 different cops shot to kill him. There was a sniper present. Any competent shooter could have made a disarming shot. He was contained and not in the valley mall. The cops were too anxious to have a kill. They can defend their actions all they want, but it is clear they had other options. They are getting like bully cowboys around this area and have the support of folks like you to treat every case as if they were dealing with the drug cartel. also, since you obviously don’t know, one of the cops was the officer that shot Creach. Do your own research.

      • Kristen H

        You clearly don’t know the details of Jed’s claim to the VA, so quit acting like you do. The VA is a favorite whipping boy of the media – I see you are no different in that regard. Some facts that may help you: VA Healthcare is a separate system from VA Benefits. Getting mental health assistance and being granted disability are two very separate processes handled by two separate systems. The VA Benefits system has been slowed down by the government shutdown and sequestration (for which we have Congress to thank). Behind the VA are many thousands of dedicated employees, including thousands of veterans who serve other veterans. DAV and other service organizations are exactly the advocates vets like Jed need.

        • Kristen:

          Nowhere do I make any claim to know this young man. The VA has earned its reputation. I am not using it as a whipping boy. VH Healthcare is a cousin to the VA Benefits and I do know the difference. I deal with each one, individually. And yes, of course, mental health assistance is available. If you live in an urban area. Good luck in the more rural communities of America. And if you are healthy enough to recognize that you need mental health care – which, sadly, many do not. And even if they do recognize the need for it, there are a plethora of reasons why veterans are reluctant to seek mental health care. (This holds true for those who aren’t veterans, too. Our current mental health system is in crisis, and has been ever since we shut down facilities in the 80s and turned our mentally ill to the streets and rural communities where there is so little available.) I agree we have Congress to blame for a lot of this. But Congress is simply the representation of the people. So ultimately the fault and failures are ours, not some government entity. People who have used their voices have created new nations, new governments, a new way of doing things. Those who remain silent remain oppressed. That’s what the First Amendment Right is to be used for — to revolutionize that which we find unacceptable. I do not for one moment question that there are thousands of dedicated VA employees. I happen to know Allison Hickey and many others who work for the VA and I know them to be dedicated to their jobs. Does that mean that there aren’t flaws with the system? Does that mean that one can’t press for better care for all our veterans? No. The numbers tell the story. If we were doing our jobs, if we were doing as we promised to do – care for our veterans – we would not be losing more soldiers to a battle on the homefront than we are to the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan combined.

          RE: Jed. I rec’d this note from someone who does know Jed and knows the issues he was facing: “The worst part (and there are so many) is that the disability he was trying to get, was denied based on a simple paperwork error. The stupidity is beyond belief.”

          It is this sort of thing that adds to the frustration that veterans face. This person wrote to thank me for my essay.

          So before you go off half-cocked you might want to check into my background and do some homework. My long-standing work with veterans and their families is well-documented.

          And I can’t say enough good things about the DAV and the work they do.

    • Carol

      ” The fact that he didn’t aim his gun at police doesn’t matter one bit. He wasn’t obeying instructions, he was a danger to himself and others. End of story.”

      I hope you will review your statement. I don’t care what state you live in….you simply can’t shoot someone for not obeying instructions. If you review other police agencies you will find officers who are trained in these situations and know how to bring about a peaceful resolution. That’s not the case here in Spokane. There is a very long history here of bad policing. I’m not saying that there could have been a different outcome. We will never know. However, given the enormous mistrust the citizens of Spokane have for the law enforcement agencies here, a through review is in order. Also, this is NOT the “end of story” for many, many people here. This is now a lifetime of sorrow, pain and questions by those who loved him.

  • Derrick Brooks

    why such a show of force i know it only takes one shot.when you go to view the body of a kid you helped raise his whole life your told to look at his feet. its degrading to him and his family . its a outrage. i know someone was in charge .we don’t even do that to a rabid dog. r ember the whole world is watching. whats that telling our young. the world. how he went to fight for our freedom.. if that’s freedom i don’t want it… this sudden loss of life was like my son i loved him like he was my own. he went to the v.a. more then once, or twice. has anyone took someone to the v,a its a joke…

    • Derrick: Our entire nation ought to be grieving the loss of Jed Zillmer. Yet, his death hasn’t even been headline news in the region. Proof that we simply don’t want to know the tragedy of war. Just tell us when we are winning, whatever that means. I know those who work within the VA system are as equally distraught as the veterans trying to get help. Here’s what I know does work — if a veteran has an advocate who goes with him/her and advocates for the best care possible. Someone who knows how to speak out. I have done this now for several veterans. Am in the process again with another veteran. But until you have been in the system and observed how flawed it is and know the backdoor through treatment and help, many vets simply give up because they are suffering from PTSD and their nerves simply can’t manage all the maneuvering required. We owe our veterans better than Jed got. That’s should be a mantra by which we move forward. I am so, so sorry.

  • Matt Loringer

    Jed Zillmer (Little Z) was one of my snipers and was such fine young man full of hopes and dreams about having a better life. Regardless of the circumstances this young man deserved better. The army and our government has failed him. Words cannot express the sorrow that I feel right now. Regardless of the circumstances this young man deserved better. The army and our government has failed this hero.

    • Matt: I am so so sorry. We have all failed him.

    • Bo West

      you’re damn right they failed him. makes my blood boil.my condolences to his family.I remember him being a great soldier

  • Derrick Brooks

    its just so tragic

  • Melanie McNichols-Brown

    Jed Zillmer was my nephew by marriage, I knew him when he was just 4 yrs old & while I hadn’t seen him in many years & didn’t really know him personally…I felt I did because of the wonderful things his Grandmother (my mother-in-law) always said about him…my heart is broken…he was just a kid, just getting his footing in this world & they didn’t have to kill him… I am devestated for what his family (my family) is going through!! Jed was a hero, I will never think of him in any other way, he has a huge family that is mourning his loss right now & alot of friends. This should be considered an American tragedy but America won’t know about him or how our country abandoned him after he fought in this ridiculous war, in the name of freedom…I wish that everyone that loved him would not be silent…that they would scream out about what has happened…get someones attention & make this known Nationally!! This country is crap…our children suffer because they do what they think is right by fighting for us & then they are ignored…when they come home damaged by what they have endured!! Rest in Paradise Jed Zillmer…we know the truth & we will never forget you!!

    • Melanie: My heart breaks for you and for all of Jed’s family. I am so, so sorry. Medals and military funerals are a cold solace to the grieving. I, too, believe Jed’s death should have made National headlines. When we ignore the home front deaths of our soldiers we contribute to the mythology of war.

  • Cheryl S.

    The author of this article should be ashamed of herself. Jed Zillmer’s story is tragic but to blame the Spokane Police Department only perpetuates the problem. Her statement that officers should shoot to disable is so ignorant. The tragedy is that an American veteran was denied benefits by the Federal Government. However, it was Jed Zillman’s choice to tell law enforcement that he was armed and dangerous because he wanted to die. If he was “shot and injured’ he would be capable to killing innocent people or officers. Zillerman was armed, trained and dangerous and said he would take innocent people out. Maybe Karen Spears Zacharias should be within gun range of being shot by someone who is not in their right mind before she passes judgement against those that keep her safe from danger. Shame on her for causing more problems rather than focusing on the real problem of our Vets getting their benefits and mental health care.

    • Cheryl: The slain soldier was keeping me safe. The law enforcement who killed the slain solider are keeping me safe. Why then does all this killing make me feel so unsafe?

  • Cheryl S.

    Karen, did you ever consider that those officers involved in this shooting are also victims? They are now suffering and being treated for PTSD. Do you think they wanted to kill this guy? Shame on you.

    • Yes, of course I considered it Cheryl, which is exactly why we MUST find a better way. Killing a person is not a cure for PTSD – not for the one suffering from it, nor the one shooting the one suffering.

  • Fact: the very same officer involved in the Creach shooting was involved with the Zillmer shooting. More on the six officers involved in the shooting death of Jed Zillmer: http://www.krem.com/video/featured-videos/Spokane-County-deputies-identified-in-fatal-veteran-shooting-246002161.html

  • Nadine Gettys

    This is an extremely well-written article.
    A friend of mine is trying to raise awareness on this very subject… You should look up Project 22 (it’s on Facebook). He would be interested in hearing about this.
    As far as I’m concerned, these veterans risked their lives, and GAVE their sanity for the rest of their lives; all for the American people’s safety, comfort, and well-being. And anyone who says or tries to even argue otherwise is ungrateful, and doesn’t deserve to live in this country. This MUST stop, and there MUST be more support for them.