The suburban City of Fullerton, CA is under intense scrutiny from both its residents and the nation after details surrounding a fatal police beating of an unarmed homeless man named Kelly Thomas became public. Thomas suffered from Schizophrenia. The man who once called the streets of Fullerton his home died on July 10, 2011– several days after his interaction with the Fullerton Police Department left him comatose.
On the evening of July 5, 2011, Fullerton PD says they received a call that a man had been trying to burglarize cars at the downtown bus depot. Thomas, who was waiting at the bus stop, fit the description. Police officers discovered Thomas and attempted to search him, but he tried to run away. Six policemen were eventually on scene and became involved in a scuffle with Thomas. Officers report that he became physical with them, which is why so many were required to subdue him. Witnesses, however, tell a much different story.
Witnesses say that the police officers hog-tied and continued to beat Thomas after he stopped resisting arrest. They also contend that Thomas was not only tazed by police officers six times but also beaten by the butt of the tazer. Witnesses also report that Thomas was finally taken away in an ambulance after he became practically lifeless. The scene was described as extremely bloody, and two witnesses who recorded the incident on camera say that police confiscated their footage at the scene.
One witness walked away with cell phone footage of the incident and released it to the public. During the disturbing two-minute video, viewers can hear the clicking sounds of a tazer and Thomas crying out “Dad! Dad! Dad!” One witness can be heard reacting by saying, “Holy shit! They’ve tazed him like 5 times already! That’s enough!” Another witness exclaimed, “I don’t know why they don’t just put cuffs on him and call it a night instead of hitting him. They’re freaking ruthless.”
Shortly after the event, surveillance footage from a bus stop near the incident emerged. “The cops are kicking this poor guy over there,” a woman breathlessly stated as she entered the bus. “They were pulling his hair, kicking the shit out of him, and he’s all full of blood.”
“The cops came and pounded his face against the curb and beat him up,” another witness on the footage said. “They killed him.”
A horrific photo of Thomas at the hospital with his face beaten and unrecognizable was published after he died. This sparked the attention of the community and caused the story to become international news.
Hundreds of enraged protestors began filling the streets of Fullerton. Armed with posters that read, “Shame on Fullerton Police” and “No One is Above The Law,” protesters shouted “Justice for Kelly Thomas!” A memorial complete with flowers, photos and an abundance of messages condemning the Fullerton police department can be found at the bus depot where Thomas was beaten to death,
Thomas’ family and their lawyer came forward with medical reports from UCI Medical Center, the hospital he was treated at. Other than the many injuries to his body, the records revealed that he had been beaten repeatedly in face and tazed twice in the chest. Tazing in the chest is a discouraged tactic due to the possibility of cardiac arrest. During the course of the beating, Thomas ultimately choked on his own blood. The cause of death on his medical records is listed as “blunt trauma” due to assault.
Thomas’s father Ron, is a retired Orange County Police officer. After looking at the X-rays and the condition his son was in after the beating, he says there is no doubt his son was murdered. He believes the police officers killed his son to send a message to the homeless community in Fullerton. The city offered him $900,000 to settle the case, but he turned it down.
Adding a bigger twist to the tragic tale, The City of Fullerton has footage of the incident, outside of the footage obtained from the surveillance camera outside of the bus depot. Despite hundreds of residents and two city council members demanding that this footage be shown to the public, City of Fullerton is not releasing it. The District Attorney claims that he does not want the footage released because it might sway possible witnesses in a trial. The police officers that participated in the beating were allowed to view the video before and in conjunction with writing their reports.
“The city of Fullerton seems to have major problems,” said Christopher Chavez, California State University Fullerton alum. “The citizens should have every right to see the video of what happened that night. It’s probably too graphic to be broadcast on TV, but it should at least be played at a city council meeting. They seem to be hiding the evidence, the truth, and the severity of it all.”
The residents of Fullerton insist that the police officers that beat Thomas to death should be fired. They also demand that the Chief of Police Mike Sellars resign, as well as the mayor.
The six police officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave, but several were reported to have been patrolling the streets after Thomas died. Chief Sellars was placed on medical leave for reasons that have not been disclosed.
The District Attorney, who has not prosecuted any cop for improper force in 15 years, says he has yet to determine if charges will be brought against the police officers that beat Thomas. Chief Sellars stated that the Fullerton Police Department has launched their own internal investigation and is cooperating with investigators.
Because of Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson the FBI is now conducting an independent investigation into the incident.
Adam Appolonio, TJSL 3L and California State University Fullerton alum, was dropping his friend off at the Fullerton bus depot and saw the police cars the night that Thomas was beaten to death. “Knowing that 6 cops killed an unarmed man in the area I grew up is surreal,” he said. “They need to be charged. I've heard multiple stories about police brutality lately and it's disturbing to say the least. What sort of society are we living in if the people who are supposed to protect us can get away with murder?”
For more developments of this story as they come, visit http://www.fullertonsfuture.org.