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Angry crowd meets with Fullerton city leaders over police beating

August 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
More than 100 people turned out at Fullerton City Hall on Tuesday night to express their anger over the death of a homeless man during a confrontation with Fullerton police.

Kelly Thomas, 37, died July 5. Officials said he became combative as they tried to arrest him for breaking into cars, but others said he was beaten to death. Thomas was an area transient and suffered from schizophrenia.

"Let's call it what it is: it's murder," said one person of many who spoke before the Fullerton City Council.

Thomas' father, Ron, received a standing ovation from the crowd after asking for video possibly taken from a nearby surveillance camera.

Thomas' stepmother showed up to the council chamber holding a photo of her badly beaten stepson in a hospital bed.

"Imagine someone that you love's last picture that you ever see looking like that?" she told the City Council. "It's terrible. It makes it hard for me to do anything all day long. This is all I think about."

Several asked for the Fullerton Police Department chief to resign.

Video from an Orange County transit bus posted on YouTube contains eyewitness accounts of the alleged confrontation.

A man and woman saw the attack, boarded the bus, and then spoke to the driver about what they saw.

They said Thomas was sitting on a bench when he was first approached by two officers. Thomas ran away, and the officers chased him. The witnesses said Thomas was then pinned to the ground.

Eventually a total of six police officers were seen beating Thomas.

Thomas died from his injuries later at a hospital.

"I'm not going anywhere, the people are not going anywhere. We want answers," said Ron Thomas, a former Orange County sheriff's deputy.

A video posted on YouTube captured some of the incident. In the video, you can hear the sound of a stun gun and then Kelly Thomas calling out for his father.

"The last words of his life, 'dad, dad.' I want you to hear that the rest of your life like I will," Ron Thomas told the City Council.

The Fullerton Police Department is cooperating with county and federal investigators. The department said two of its officers suffered broken bones from the incident.

Ever since the death, hundreds of people have rallied, asking police to release surveillance video from a camera located near the scene of the beating.

"We have not made any comment about the existence of surveillance video, whether it exists or not," said Fullerton Police Sgt. Andrew Goodrich.

Police said six officers were responding that night to calls that Kelly Thomas was trying to break into cars. Those officers are now all on administrative leave as the Orange County District Attorney investigates.

"In the end, when the investigation comes out, if there is culpability on the part of any of the officers, then that is what is going to happen," said Goodrich.

Ron Thomas said he wants the officers involved to go to prison.

"And if that includes the watch commander because he was aware of everything that was going on also, so be it. He can go to prison too," he said. "I want a huge civil suit with these monies to go into the foundation, which will feed and clothe homeless people."

Ron Thomas said he's been offered nearly $1 million to settle any potential lawsuits against the city.

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