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Kelly Thomas death: Reforms needed in Fullerton, task force says

May 15, 2012 | 12:40 pm


A task force created in the wake of the death of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man who had a violent confrontation with six Fullerton police officers, is preparing to present a set of recommendations to the Fullerton City Council.

The Fullerton Task Force on Homelessness and Mental Health Services, whose members include religious leaders, advocates, and Kelly Thomas' father, was created in September, two months after the incident that led to Thomas' death. Two officers have been criminally charged in the case.

The group is recommending that the city work with the county to create a regional year-round homeless shelter and a permanent supportive housing development for the mentally ill; request a clinician from the county's behavioral health services department to work with the Fullerton Police Department on outreach to the mentally ill homeless; and ask the county to implement Laura's Law, which would create court-ordered outpatient treatment for the severely mentally ill.

Mental health advocates have expressed hopes that the Thomas case will lead to some systemic changes in police training and homeless services.

Fullerton's mayor, Sharon Quirk-Silva, echoed their sentiments in an interview last week.

“There’s no bright side to a tragedy, but if you could say any outcome has come out of it, it certainly is the awareness of mental health issues and homeless issues,” she said.

In addition to creating the task force, the city commissioned a review of the Thomas case and the Police Department's overall policies and practices and put all police officers through training on use of force and dealing with mentally ill subjects.

Thomas' death has resulted in political upheaval in the north Orange County city -- the former police chief stepped down in the wake of the violent confrontation and three council members are now facing a recall election.

Councilman Bruce Whitaker, who has been highly critical of the Police Department's handling of the Thomas case and other incidents, said that while there have been changes at the department he still believes there is a lack of accountability in the department and that council members had been kept in the dark about facts in the case.

Whitaker had pushed for the release of a surveillance video that captured the incident, which was only shown in public for the first time last week during a preliminary hearing for the two officers accused of criminal charges.

“My original instinct was that the video should have been made public very early, and I think if it had, we would be much farther along on accountability and corrective actions,” he said.


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Photo: Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas' father, speaks after a preliminary hearing for two Fullerton police officers charged in the death of his son. Credit: Getty Images