FULLERTON, Calif. – The father of a homeless mentally disabled man, who was beaten during a confrontation with police and later died, wants the key officer among the six under investigation to receive the death penalty, he said during a protest next to Fullerton PD headquarters Saturday.
More than 300 protesters held signs and voiced their opposition to the way city officials, including the chief of police, the mayor and two other council members have handled the case of Kelly Thomas.
On July 5, Thomas was at the county’s public transportation center in Fullerton when he was approached by police officers responding to reports of cars being burglarized in the area. Thomas began to run away, but was shortly subdued, according to a police report.
Thomas, who suffered severe head and neck injuries during the confrontation with police, died in a hospital five days later. One police officer was suspended after the incident, and the other five officers were put on leave Tuesday.
Witnesses caught on video at the transportation center that night described a brutal beating by police. Photos taken by Kelly's father, Ron Thomas, show his son’s face bloody and disfigured while his head rests on a hospital bed.
Fullerton police say they have a video showing the incident, but have not released it to the public. Two other videos contain potentially incriminating evidence against the officers. One contains dialogue between witnesses who describe a horrific beating by police and the other contains audio in which screams can be heard.
“We all recognize this as a hate crime against the homeless and the mentally ill. A brutal murder, with special circumstances,” Ron Thomas said in front of Fullerton police headquarters during the protest. “I hope they seek the death penalty.”
Ron Thomas told The Christian Post that he also would like to see a life sentence given to a second police officer that he alleges pinned his son to the ground while he was being beaten. He said he knows the specific details of the incident from talking to people that witnessed the beating.
At the protest, organizers beginning a petition drive to recall city council members, were collecting names and contact information from those willing to sign a petition after it is approved.
While some protesters focused their anger towards efforts at calling for a proper police investigation and asking for the resignation of police chief Michael Sellers, others wanted to help educate people about the plight of the homeless and mentally disabled.
Greg and Dana Atkin, from the neighboring city of Anaheim, said they came to the protest because they have a mentally disabled son who was once homeless. The son is now receiving care at a psychiatric facility. However, they said that getting their son help was extremely difficult.
“This has touched us especially because this could have been our son,” Dana Atkin said. “A lot of people who have serious mental illnesses have the issue of being homeless and being victimized. So many people are afraid of people who have serious mental illnesses when in reality they are more likely to be a victim of a crime than to be a perpetrator of a crime.”
The couple are members of the Orange County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Like the alliance, Greg Atkin said that he and his wife want to help reduce the stigma related to those with mental illness.
“Our son is 35. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 19. We have worked the [state mental health] system for 15 years and know how difficult it is. We know that the Thomas family did not plan for this,” Dana Atkin said. “Our son deteriorated to the point of living under a bridge before we were finally able to get help for him.”
Fourteen-year-old Charles Williamson held a sign that read, “The Homeless Are People Too.” He said he did not agree with Ron Thomas’ call for the death penalty.
"I wanted to show my support for Kelly Thomas. No one should be killed. Not even the cop. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," Williamson said.