FULLERTON, Calif. – A protest of city officials’ handling of the fatal beating of a homeless mentally disabled man at the hands of six police officers still under investigation is planned in front of the Fullerton police headquarters Saturday morning, the man’s father said.
The death of Kelly Thomas has touched off a firestorm of reaction, now seen nationally coming from victims rights advocates. Much of the national attention about the case has come as the result of residents from this Orange County, Calif., city making their anger known at a city hall meeting Tuesday.
One month ago, Thomas was sitting on a bench 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, according to a police report, but was shortly subdued in what is being described by witnesses as a brutal attack.
In a surveillance video taken aboard a county transportation bus on the day of the incident, two passengers say officers had pounded the 37-year-old Thomas in the face and tased him six times.
Thomas, who suffered severe head and neck injuries, died in a hospital on July 10, five days after the incident. Six police officers involved in the incident have since been suspended.
Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, has been leading the charge in protest of the fatal beating of his son. Protests and vigils held in front of the city’s police department on Saturdays over the last several weeks have been growing.
Ron Thomas, before leaving his home for yet another news media interview, told The Christian Post that another protest was planned for Saturday. Although recent weeks have been an emotional roller coaster, he said he is happy to partner with a large community of supporters that now surround his family.
The support includes an Orange County ministry that plans to hold a memorial service Sunday. “Breakfast Together Outreach” normally meets every Sunday at five locations to “provide a meal, fellowship, and an encouraging message with our neighbors without homes,” said ministry leader Max McGhee.
“This Sunday we'll be holding memorial services in honor of Kelly Thomas to help our homeless family grieve this tragedy and learn that love and forgiveness is still the best form of retaliation," McGhee said.
While the investigation of the six Fullerton police officers who are on administrative leave is ongoing, more details are beginning to emerge. It was revealed yesterday that the first officer to be put on leave, Jay Cicinelli, was shot six times as a rookie cop for the Los Angeles Police Department 14 years ago. Cicinelli lost an eye in the incident and was put on medical leave by the LAPD. Shortly afterward he began working for the Fullerton police department and has been with them 13 years.
Although the public comment session during the Fullerton City Council meeting on Tuesday included nearly all positive character references to Kelly Thomas, reports show that he does have a police record consisting of mostly minor offenses.
Other residents have said he was the cause of some problems in the area of the city he was often seen in. Thomas was diagnosed with schizophrenia at an early age and shifted between addresses much of his life, his father said in a recent Associated Press story.
Although Ty Lopin did not know Thomas, she said her daughter who works in a nearby Starbucks did. Lopin told CP she sympathizes with the family and is saddened that his life was ended in such a fashion. However, her daughter witnessed some aggressive behavior from the homeless man.
“My daughter constantly had to deal with his temper, threats, and antics as he used to hang out around and in the Starbucks store in Fullerton where he spent a lot of time,” Lopin said. “On several occasions she had to be the one to either break up an altercation or call the police to assist in removing him to avoid harming or threatening other customers.”
Lopin said that the reaction at the coffee shop her daughter works at has been mixed.
“The story will unfold if the media asks the tough questions. There is a history here that is overshadowed by the hype,” she said.
She added, “It could be a good ending if more awareness of his illness and help for families dealing with the same situation is brought to light.”