D.A.: No evidence Fullerton cops intentionally killed homeless man
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas on Monday said he's seen no evidence so far suggesting Fullerton police officers intentionally tried to kill homeless man Kelly Thomas but said his office is still trying to determine whether the officers used excessive force in his death.
Rackauckas, speaking for the first time about the fatal incident, told The Times that the investigation is in its early stages and his office has yet to get a determination from the Orange County coroner’s office on Thomas’ cause of death.
“As far as intentional killing — whether an officer intended to kill him ... I have not seen any evidence of that in this case,” Rackauckas said.
Thomas, 37, died several days after he was confronted by six Fullerton officers at the local bus depot last month. As they tried to search the schizophrenic homeless man, a violent altercation ensued that left him in a coma. Witnesses have described officers as repeatedly striking the man and Tasering him.
Rackauckas said he has made the investigation a priority for his prosecutors and investigators and is devoting extensive resources to the case. “I am reviewing everything that is being done,” he said.
The top prosecutor said he has personally seen a security videotape of the incident at the bus depot. Prosecutors and police have refused to make the video public. Rackauckas said he cannot discuss the content.
“It is a tragedy this happened,” said Rackauckas when asked to characterize the video’s images. “My heart goes out to Mr. Thomas and (his) family members.”
He said his office is expediting the case by placing extra investigators on it but that it takes time to transcribe dozens of interviews and gather relevant documents.
The incident, which prompted large protests at the bus depot in the usually conservative community, is also under investigation by the FBI.
Two Fullerton council members have called for the police chief to resign, and hundreds have attended protest rallies. Six officers have been placed on leave. And local conservative activist and entrepreneur Tony Bushala said he had gathered enough signatures to begin the recall petition process against Councilmen Pat McKinley, Don Bankhead and F. Richard Jones.
The Police Department has released few details about what happened that night, other than to say that Thomas was stopped by officers investigating a report of an attempted car burglary and became combative.
-- Richard Winton and Abby Sewell
Photo: A crowd gathers in front of the Fullerton police station Sunday to protest the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who died after an altercation with several officers. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times; Orange County D.A. Rackauckas. Credit: L.A. Times