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Fullerton City Council holds closed-door session on homeless man's death

August 12, 2011 | 10:31 am

Photo: A photo of Kelly Thomas is taped to a poll at the OCTA bus depot near where he was tasered and beaten my Fullerton police on July 5 off South Pomona Avenue. The city is outraged over his death. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times The Fullerton City Council was meeting behind closed doors Friday morning to discuss the recent medical leave of the police chief and potential discipline of six officers involved in a deadly encounter with a homeless man.

The City Council went into a closed-door session because of potential for litigation by the family of Kelly Thomas and personnel issues related to the officers, who have already been placed on administrative leave, officials said. Police Chief Michael Sellers took a medical leave Wednesday after two council members called for his resignation for his handling of the July 5 incident.

Meanwhile, the council is also set to consider whether to hire a renowned police watchdog to review its police department's policies and practices in the wake of Thomas' death.

Photos: Fullerton residents protest death of homeless man

Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz is recommending the council hire Michael Gennaco to conduct an independent review of the incident. Gennaco oversees Los Angeles County's Office of Independent Review and daily scrutinizes the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's actions.

Gennaco said his review would look at issues such as training, supervision and broader policies when dealing with individuals who are mentally ill or homeless.

The death of Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia, is already under criminal investigation by the FBI and Orange County district attorney's office.

The deadly incident occurred July 5 while officers were investigating reports of someone trying to break into cars at the downtown transit center. They tried to search the backpack of the 37-year-old homeless man, who had become a fixture in downtown Fullerton.

The encounter escalated after Thomas ran. Witnesses said officers beat and kicked Thomas and used a Taser on him multiple times. He died five days later after being removed from life support.

Acting Police Chief Kevin Hamilton took command of the Fullerton Police Department on Wednesday.

Thomas' parents have filed a claim --  a precursor to a lawsuit -- against the city. The claim alleges their son was at a bus depot when six police officers “used excessive and deadly force” against him “without justification and acting under color of law.”

The claim alleges the officers “in unison severely beat [him] with their fists and with objects and subjected [him] to excessive applications of Taser electricity." They allege that he was restrained and represented no threat of harm to the police.

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-- Abby Sewell and Richard Winton

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Photo: A photo of Kelly Thomas is taped to a poll at the Orange County Transit Authority bus depot near where witnesses say Thomas was Tasered and beaten my Fullerton police on July 5 off South Pomona Avenue. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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