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Fullerton to hire veteran watchdog to review Police Department

August 12, 2011 |  1:31 pm

The Fullerton City Council on Friday directed its attorney to draw up a contract to hire a police watchdog to review its embattled Police Department in the wake of a homeless man's deadly encounter with six officers.

The council is expected to approve the contract next week with Michael Gennaco to conduct an independent review of Kelly Thomas' death. Gennaco oversees Los Angeles County's Office of Independent Review and daily scrutinizes the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's actions.

The council's decision came after a closed-door meeting to discuss Kelly Thomas' death and its impact on the city. In the last week, Police Chief Michael Sellers has taken a medical leave and Thomas' parents have filed a claim against the city, alleging police brutality.

 Photos: Fullerton residents protest death of homeless man

Also on Friday, local blogger Tony Bushala submitted paperwork to the City Clerk to begin a recall petition against petition against Mayor F. Richard Jones and City Council members Pat McKinley and Don Bankhead. The three, along with Sellers, have come under fire for their silence on the Thomas case.

"The best department in this country could improve, and that's what we're looking to do," Gennaco said. "I can't tell you, because I don't know, where Fullerton falls on the range." He estimated the contract would run from $50,000 to $70,000.

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 Thomas' backpack.

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.

Gennaco is former head of the civil rights section of the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, overseeing investigations of police misconduct and hate-crime cases.

The circumstances surrounding Thomas' death are already under criminal investigation by the FBI and Orange County District Attorney's office.

Fullerton's acting police chief, Kevin Hamilton, acknowledged this week that the department had allowed police officers involved in the altercation with Thomas to watch a video that captures the incident before writing their reports about it.

Hamilton said supervisors allowed the review so that the officers would have a chance to refresh their memory and write an accurate account of the incident.


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Photo: Fullerton City Councilwoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, left, and Fullerton resident Erin Lewis, right, comfort Cathy Thomas, center, after the City Council voted to retain an outside investigator to look into the death of Thomas' son, Kelly. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times