Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Enraged Community Speaks Out

The City Council, not the police chief, will have final say on any discipline imposed on the officers involved in a physical altercation with Kelly Thomas that led to the homeless man's death, City Attorney Richard Jones said at the start of Tuesday's night's council meeting.

From there, for more than three hours, speakers from the public largely expressed anger at the death and how city officials have handed subsequent events.

The Council Chambers were packed with 200 spectators, including Thomas' parents. Another 50 watched on a TV in City Hall's lobby. More than 70 spoke, with a dozen-plus calling for the resignation of Police Chief Michael Sellers.

On July 5, officers confronted Thomas while investigating reports of a man burglarizing cars in the Transportation Center, where buses come and go. Police say Thomas became violent as two officers tried to search him, kicking off a fight in which six officers were needed to subdue him. Thomas suffered severe head and neck injuries and died July 10.

All six involved officers are now on paid administrative leave. Before Tuesday, one was on administrative leave, one was on medical leave and the other four were taken off of patrol and had no contact with the public.

When addressing the council Tuesday, Ron Thomas once again said his son was beaten to death.

"We, the family, are having a real difficult time," Thomas said. "I'm close to losing it emotionally. ... I may have lost 15 pounds over the past few weeks."

Thomas praised council members Sharon Quirk-Silva and Bruce Whitaker for publicly demanding that information surrounding the incident, including surveillance video of the incident captured at the Transportation Center, be made public.

Thomas also berated other council members and city officials for withholding information.

Officials with the Orange County District Attorney's Office have said they have a video.

"If the Police Department saw me beat somebody on a video, I'd be so far behind bars, you couldn't find me," Thomas said. "If I went out and committed a crime, the 9-1-1 tapes would have been released that day."

Said Councilman Richard Jones: "We want justice. We want your questions answered too."

Many who talked Tuesday night hugged and offered condolences to Thomas, who sat in the front row, a few feet from the podium.

Many in the crowd, believing the police got out of control, came to demand that justice be served.

"I'm here because I had to witness a terrible murder," said Mark Turgeon, who said he witnessed the incident. "I've been trying to hide and stay away, because I am in fear of retaliation."

Jack Dean, who runs a local blog, insisted that the key video be made public.

"If taxpayers are funding these recordings, then taxpayers should have easy access to them," Dean said. "Police are watching us, but we don't get to watch them."

Councilman Pat McKinley, who was Fullerton's police chief for 16 years, said the public should reserve judgment until the investigation is finished.

"If the investigation shows that we have bad police officers, the judicial system and the city of Fullerton will deal with them accordingly," McKinley said. "If the investigation exonerates them, their careers will continue."

When addressing the council, Alex Espinoza held up a photo of a bloody and bruised Kelly Thomas taken in the hospital the day after the altercation.

"I just want to say how outraged I am by this," Espinoza said.

Before the meeting, three men stood at the entrance to City Hall holding a 20-foot-long banner with a photo of Kelly Thomas and the words: "Release the tape."

One of the men, Jeff Levine, said he used to be homeless himself and spent a lot of time with Kelly Thomas, who was 37.

"I'd see him, and he wouldn't bother anybody," Levine said. "The main reason (I came tonight) is because I knew him as a friend and a human being and when I heard about it, it hit me hard."

To view an archive from last nights City Council meeting, we have posted a link to the City's website in our sidebar under Fullerton Radio/Television in our Bosco Fullerton Magazine. (Click on the link in the sidebar here to our community newspaper) We also have a link there to today's John and Ken radio program where they are once again scheduled to talk about the Beating Death of Kelly Thomas at the hands of the Fullerton Police Department. That program begins at 3 PM PT

By Lou Ponsi
Mr. Ponsi is a writer for the Orange County Register

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