FULLERTON, Calif. – The death of a homeless and mentally disabled man as the result of a confrontation with police officers near an Orange County bus transportation center has city residents angry and victim advocates riled.
Kelly Thomas was approached by Fullerton police officers responding to reports of cars being burglarized in the area on July 5. In a surveillance video taken aboard a public transportation bus, two passengers say officers had pounded the 37-year-old Thomas in the face and tased him six times.
One of the passengers is heard saying, “They beat him up, and then all the cops came and they hog tied him, and he was like, ‘Please God, please dad!’”
Thomas, who suffered severe head and neck injuries, died in a hospital five days later.
Photos of Thomas’ in the hospital show the gruesome results of the beating. A video of the confrontation that has more detail than a video previously found has not been released to the public.
A Fullerton City Council meeting Tuesday night at City Hall had more than three hours of comments from the public and a crowd of approximately 400 people, including overflow. Many of the community members addressing the council asked for a proper investigation of the six police officers involved in the incident.
Five officers were placed on administrative leave just hours before the city council meeting, joining a sixth officer already on leave.
Fullerton resident Christine Walker said her brother was also a schizophrenic homeless man. She said she was at the meeting to see justice prevail. Walker said she believes that the Fullerton police are using harmful tactics to remove homeless people from the city. A group of people have been meeting in front of the police department for the last several Saturdays.
“We’ve been on a crusade. The week before last there was maybe 30 of us protesting. Last week there were 200 of us. It took the community to stand up to the Fullerton police department to make them take action,” Walker told The Christian Post. “They need to clean house. They need to get the chief of police out of here.”
Several public commentators addressed the issues of homelessness and mental illness.
Fullerton police need to take classes regarding dealing with the mentally disabled, Walker said. “They have no idea what schizophrenia is all about.”
Jeff Levine, 40, was holding a banner outside council chambers that read “Release the Video Tape” in reference to the video police are still holding. Levine, who was born and raised in Fullerton, said he was previously homeless and became friends with Thomas during that period of his life.
“Later on, when I got off the streets I would still come over to the downtown Fullerton area and try to help him out,” Levine said. “He never bothered anybody and in my opinion he was not violent. And as far as him breaking into cars – no way.”
Thomas’ father, Ron, sat in the first row of the council meeting room and was often hugged by members of the audience who had just addressed the council at the podium. During a break in the public testimony, he talked to the overflow crowd in the lobby.
“It’s only because of you folks, the community that has come together, that we are here tonight and able to do this,” Ron Thomas said. “It’s only because of you the people that those cops were taken off duty.”
Ron Thomas told CP that the large crowd at City Hall was the result of his son’s circle of people, including the homeless.
“I had nothing to do with this gathering tonight,” he said. “This community is doing this for my son, and that’s huge.”
An attorney for the six officers being investigated for the death is defending the actions of the police. Lawyer Michael D. Schwartz said Thomas was combative with officers, according to The Los Angeles Times.