Kelly Thomas suit cites Fullerton police 'culture of corruption'
The father of Kelly Thomas, the mentally ill homeless man allegedly killed by Fullerton police officers, claims in a new lawsuit that his son's death was due to a “culture of corruption” within the department that was ignored over the years.
Kelly Thomas died five days after a July 5, 2011, beating without regaining consciousness; his chest was so compressed it deprived his brain of oxygen as blood from his facial wounds poured into his lungs.
Officer Manuel Ramos has been charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force in the case. Both have pleaded not guilty and through their lawyers said Kelly Thomas' actions led to his death.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city, two ex-police chiefs and the six officers involved in the incident, Ron Thomas says the blame extends to the department's allegedly long history of ignoring abuse.
“There was an attitude they could get away with anything they wanted,” said Thomas, a former Orange County sheriff's deputy who attended a memorial Thursday night at the Fullerton Transportation Center, where his son was beaten.
City officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The suit alleges Kelly Thomas’ death reflected a pattern and practice within the police department of ignoring complaints about sexual harassment, false arrests and alleged officer batteries since 2008. The suit names former Chief Tom Sellers and longtime chief-turned-Councilman Pat McKinley.
Ron Thomas' attorney, Garo Mardirossian, said that during more than a decade that McKinley was in charge, he hired the officers involved in Thomas' beating. In some cases unrelated to the beating, Mardirossian said, officers had been caught lying about events. And in one case, he said, an officer destroyed a tape recording of a man who later committed suicide in a jail cell.
Thomas said Thursday that he was more interested in accountability than money, but he will seek punitive damages from the officers to send a message. He said he still finds it difficult to hold back tears when he hears some of his son's last words -- “Dad, dad, they are killing me” -- heard in recordings of the incident.
Kelly Thomas' mother, Cathy, who is divorced from Ron Thomas, has already received a $1-million settlement.
Ron Thomas said his son probably was not initially afraid of the officers because his grandfather was a former Los Angeles police officer and his father a sheriff's deputy.
-- Richard Winton