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Homeless man's death: Fullerton approves probe by police watchdog

August 16, 2011 | 11:34 pm

Fullerton police protest The Fullerton City Council late Tuesday gave the go-ahead for an independent review of the city's embattled Police Department and to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a homeless man after a violent encounter with six officers.

Michael Gennaco, who oversees Los Angeles County's Office of Independent Review and scrutinizes the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's actions, said the two contracts approved by the Fullerton council allow him to review Kelly Thomas' death and conduct a separate extensive review of department policies and procedures.

The council's decision came after a meeting dominated by more than two hours of public comments criticizing how the Police Department and the city handled the July 5 altercation that resulted in Thomas' death and its aftermath. The meeting grew so heated that three council members briefly walked out.

Thomas' death is under criminal investigation by the FBI and the Orange County district attorney's office.

Photos: Homeless man dies after run-in with Fullerton police

Gennaco, a former federal civil rights prosecutor, said he would begin the policy examination immediately but probably would have to wait on the Thomas investigation until after the district attorney's office completes its criminal investigation. He said he would produce public reports on both issues and provide regular updates.

Gennaco estimated that his services would cost the city $50,000 to $70,000.

Officers confronted Thomas, 37, while investigating a report of someone trying to break into cars at the downtown transit center. Witnesses said -- and the claim filed by the Thomas family alleges -- that officers beat and kicked Thomas, who had a history of mental illness, and used a Taser on him multiple times. He died five days later after being removed from life support.

Councilman Bruce Whitaker said he supported the general review of the department but not the contract for investigating Thomas' death, expressing concern about the speed of the undertaking of the probe. He said he favored bringing that contract back later.

Mayor F. Richard Jones said he supported both contracts, adding: "We want to get things moving."

RELATED:

Fullerton police beating of homeless man is under investigation

Cops saw video of deadly incident with Kelly Thomas before writing reports

Homeless man beaten: Fullerton refuses to release officers' names to The Times

-- Richard Winton

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 six officers.

Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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