Fullerton police chief retires from embattled department
Chief Michael F. Sellers had come under fire last summer over the department’s handling of the death of a homeless man, Kelly Thomas, after a violent struggle involving six city police officers.
Two of the officers are facing criminal charges in connection with the death. Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.
Sellers went on medical leave Aug. 9 amid calls for his resignation.
According to a statement issued by the city, Sellers’ retirement announcement coincides with the resolution of his workers' compensation claim against the city.
Sellers’ doctor and an independent doctor hired by the city found him unfit to return to work, according to the city’s attorney in the matter, William McCormick. The city agreed to pay $127,500 to Sellers to resolve the claim, along with $22,500 in legal fees.
In exchange, the city will be off the hook for future medical costs.
Capt. Dan Hughes, previously the head of the patrol division, was appointed acting chief in December. City officials said he will remain in that capacity until a permanent replacement is chosen.
Sellers was entitled to draw his full salary -- which totaled $228,576 a year with benefits -- tax-free during his medical leave. City spokeswoman Sylvia Palmer could not say how exactly much the city had paid Sellers since he went on leave. She said the former chief will not receive any payment for unused sick or vacation days with his retirement.
Asked whether Sellers’ retirement was a positive development for the city, Councilman F. Richard Jones said: "What do you think? After all the hell this city’s been going through?” Other council members could not be immediately reached.
The city’s politics are also in flux. In the fall, a group headed by local blogger and developer Tony Bushala mounted a recall campaign against three of the five council members: Jones, Pat McKinley and Don Bankhead.
The recall proponents announced last month that they had turned in more than 50,000 signatures on a petition to compel a recall election. The city is waiting for the Orange County registrar of voters to verify that there are at least 10,554 valid signatures for each recall. If there are, the City Council will set a date for the election.
City Clerk Lucinda Williams said the recall would probably be held in conjunction with June’s primary election.
-- Abby Sewell
Photo: Chief Michael F. Sellers at an City Council meeting in August. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times