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Video in Fullerton police death doesn't show entire altercation

August 5, 2011 | 12:18 pm

Fullerton homeless man's memorial

A video at the center of an investigation into the death of a homeless man killed in a confrontation with Fullerton police shows parts of the altercation, but key elements were obscured, according to a law enforcement source who reviewed it.

The source, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing, said the surveillance recording from the Fullerton train depot shows six officers struggling with the man, Kelly Thomas.

But the source said obstacles obscured the "quality and angle" of the shot and that it's hard see whether Thomas was restrained and what was the full impact of the officers' actions.

The July 5 incident has outraged some residents and prompted calls from two Fullerton City Council members for the police chief, Michael Sellers, to step down.

The Police Department has released few details about what happened, but several surveillance videos quote witnesses as saying police used excessive force on Thomas.

The Orange County district attorney has more than two dozen investigators working on the case. Officials said they have already interviewed 80 witnesses and plan to speak with more than 100 people.

"You understand why the public is upset. We are doing the investigation as quickly as possible. We are waiting for the toxicology and the cause of death," Susan Kang Schroeder, the district attorney's chief of staff, said in an interview Wednesday. "The D.A. has made it very clear. This is a priority. We have two dozen investigators involved in the investigations. ... It is such an important case. The public wants the answers as soon as possible, but the public does not want a rush to judgment."

Kang Schroeder said the facts will either come out at trial or in a detailed report issued by the district attorney's office.

She also said the tape does not show the full extent of the incident.

"The camera at the bus depot was controlled by Fullerton police. It shows certain things but [does] not completely show everything" that happened, she said

Kang Schroeder said the D.A.'s office won't make the video public. "The reason why we are not releasing the video is we want to make sure that any witnesses who come forward testify to what [they] saw in person, not what they saw in the media," she said.

She added: "Your heart goes out to family. You hear the crying, 'Dad, Dad' ... but our office has a very important job to do, and we will apply the applicable laws objectively."

Although the Police Department has remained largely silent, the attorney for the six officers spoke out in their defense.

Michael D. Schwartz said Thomas was combative with officers. He said that contrary to the statements of at least one witness, the officers did not use a flashlight as a weapon. He also said there was "no excessive use" of a Taser on Thomas -- rebuffing claims made by several witnesses.


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Photo: Passersby stop to read notes left at a sidewalk memorial for Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who died five days after an altercation with Fullerton police on July 5. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times