Review of Kelly Thomas case is critical of Fullerton police
A consultant hired by the city of Fullerton criticized the Police Department's handling of the beating that led to the death of Kelly Thomas in a report presented to the City Council on Tuesday night.
Michael Gennaco, who was hired to look into the Thomas case and into general policies and practices within the Fullerton Police Department, said the use of force by six officers that led to Thomas' death "never needed to occur in the first place."
Beyond that, he pointed to other issues in the handling of the case.
Some of the officers did not turn on their digital audio recorders as required by department policy when they arrived at the scene, for instance. After the fact, Gennaco said, the city should not have waited two days to bring the district attorney's office in to investigate and should not have allowed officers to watch video of the incident in groups before writing their reports with "little or no supervision or control," essentially allowing them to get their stories straight.
Gennaco, a former federal prosecutor and head of L.A. County's Office of Independent Review, which is tasked with scrutinizing the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, also said the officers should have been interviewed rather than simply writing reports about the incident. Some of the reports were not received and entered into the system until several days later.
Thomas, a well-known local homeless man with a history of mental illness, died five days after the struggle with police last summer. Two of the officers involved have been criminally charged. Three are no longer employed by the city. Gennaco found that the other three had not committed an offense that would trigger termination, a finding that some members of the audience disputed.
Despite outlining a number of disturbing incidents in his report, Gennaco said his investigation had not uncovered a "culture of corruption" in the department.
He said, however, that there was a "culture of complacency" among some former leaders in the department that allowed problems to go unchecked. For instance, the report said, one former officer was hired despite a conviction for driving under the influence, and received another one while in training, and was not fired. The same officer later stole city funds to fuel a drug habit.
Gennaco said some officers apparently did not understand what level of force was appropriate.
"I think it's a training problem," he told the council.
Council members drilled Gennaco on the details of the report, which presented 59 recommendations for improving the department, including round-the-clock coverage by a homeless liaison officer, with whom other officers would be required to periodically ride, allowing supervisors to conduct "targeted audits" of officers' audio recordings, revising the department's protocols for investigating use of force and creation of a citizen's advisory board.
Gennaco gave the department credit for implementing reforms, including training for officers in dealing with mentally ill people and putting an officer in the position of homeless liaison, but said there was "a whole heck of a lot more" to do.
Kelly Thomas' father, Ron Thomas, who met with both Gennaco and acting Chief Dan Hughes prior to the meeting, urged the council to follow up on the recommendations in six months.
"It's great to present it here tonight and get it all out, but then if it stops here tonight, what do you have?" he said.
-- Abby Sewell
Photo: Fullerton police Officers Manuel Anthony Ramos (left) and Jay Patrick Cincinelli attend their arraignment hearing in June. They are charged in the death of Kelly Thomas. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times