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Fullerton police chief extends leave amid homeless beating controversy

September 9, 2011 | 11:11 am

Fullerton police chief extends leaveFullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers has extended his medical leave of absence for another 30 days amid calls for criminal charges to be filed against six officers involved in the brutal beating of a homeless man.

The man died five days after the violent altercation.

Sellers took a sudden leave last month as pressure mounted for him to answer questions about the night of July 5, when officers responding to reports of an attempted vehicle break-in confronted Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old schizophrenic homeless man. City officials said Seller's doctor indicated he had high blood pressure due to stress.

Fullerton Police Sgt. Andrew Goodrich said the city received a letter requesting a 30-day extension from the chief's doctor. Sellers earns $228,576 annually.

City Council members Bruce Whitaker and Sharon Quirk-Silva have called for Sellers to resign over what they said was a failure to provide a narrative to the public about Thomas' death. They also complained that information had been withheld from them, including a surveillance video that captured some of the struggle.

According to witness accounts, officers beat Kelly and shocked him with a Taser multiple times until he was unconscious. He died five days later after being removed from life support.

On Wednesday, Kelly Thomas' father, Ron Thomas, and his attorney Garo Mardirossian released medical records from UC Irvine Medical Center, where Kelly died.

The sheriff-coroner’s office has not determined a cause of death and is awaiting toxicology and other test results, but the medical records released by Thomas show the immediate cause of death was "brain death" due to "head trauma" from the incident.

According to the records Ron Thomas provided, Kelly Thomas suffered brain injuries, a shattered nose, a smashed cheekbone, broken ribs and severe internal bleeding.

District attorney’s officials have said they are awaiting the coroner’s report before concluding their investigation. The FBI is also investigating the incident, and the city of Fullerton has hired an outside consultant to review practices in the Police Department. 

Ron Thomas has said he wants criminal charges filed against the officers involved in the death of his son. The incident has spurred recall efforts against three council members.

Mayor F. Richard Jones, along with Councilman Don Bankhead and Councilman Pat McKinley, are facing a recall campaign spearheaded by local blogger Tony Bushala, in part because of the Thomas case. The six officers involved remain on paid administrative leave.


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Photo: Fullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times