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Independent consultant may head Fullerton police beating probe

August 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Fullerton city official wants an independent consultant to head the investigation of a deadly confrontation between a homeless man and police.

Kelly Thomas, 37, died a few days after a violent encounter with six Fullerton police officers. They were investigating reports of a break-in when they got into a fight with the homeless, mentally-ill man at a bus station.

In a video posted on YouTube, Thomas is heard crying out for his father as the officers Taser him. Thomas suffered severe head and neck injuries.

The incident has sparked angry demonstrations in Fullerton and led to accusations of police brutality. Attorney Michael Gennaco, who specializes in examining law enforcement agencies, may be called in to conduct an independent investigation.

Gennaco said the purpose would be "to look at the incident, not just for purposes of criminality, but for looking at it for different persons - the persons of accountability, the person of training, of policy, of hiring practices."

Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz plans to ask the City Council to approve the hiring of a consultant.

"The recommendation to hire Mr. Gennaco is consistent with the city's state desire from the outset for an independent review and transparency on all matters related to the Kelly Thomas incident," Felz said in a statement. "The death of Mr. Thomas is a tragedy that has deeply affected the entire community."

The six police officers involved in the incident are on administrative leave. Gennaco said if he's hired, he'll make recommendations about what should happen to those officers and issue a public report.

"The videos oftentimes, I think, are over-emphasized. When in reality, it's what the people are saying and what the actual witnesses have to say and what they observed that often tells even more of the story," said Gennaco.

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