FULLERTON – An Orange County supervisor has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the death of a homeless man who died after a fight with Fullerton police.
In a letter sent to the Department of Justice's civil-rights division Thursday, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson made a "formal request to commence an investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of Kelly Thomas at the hands of the Fullerton Police Department."
Officers confronted Thomas, 37, a transient known to frequent downtown Fullerton, while investigating reports of a man burglarizing cars in the parking lot adjacent to a bus depot on July 5.
Police say Thomas became violent as two officers tried to search him, kicking off a fight in which six officers were needed to subdue him. Thomas suffered severe head and neck injuries, while two officers suffered moderate injuries.
He died five days later at the UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.
Thomas' family has accused officers of using excessive force during what they described as a "brutal beating." Witnesses claimed Thomas was shot with a Taser and struck with a flashlight.
Eye witnesses at the scene claim the six officers tasered him five times and beat him beyond recognition, which the disturbing photo of him in hospital shows.
Thomas in hospital
Mark Turgeon, who was there, said: ‘They kept beating him and tasering him. I could hear zapping, and he wasn’t even moving.
‘He had one arm in front of him like this, he wasn’t resisting. And they kept telling him, “He’s resisting, quit resisting”, and he wasn’t resisting.’
Many members of the Fullerton community described Thomas as a passive, peaceful person.
Thomas’ father, a retired Orange County sheriff’s deputy, has asserted that officers used excessive force to subdue his son, who was unarmed, slight and of medium height.
After seeing his son's injuries and talking with witnesses, Thomas told the Register his son "was brutally beaten to death."
"When I first walked into the hospital, I looked at what his mother described as my son ... I didn't recognize him," Thomas said. "This is cold-blooded, aggravated murder."
Thomas, citing witnesses, said officers hit his son with the butts of flashlights even after he stopped moving.
He said his son was probably off his medication and didn't understand officers' commands.
A spokesman for the Orange County Coroner's office declined to discuss the case but said an autopsy of Thomas had been completed and the results forwarded to investigators.
Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who represents the supervisorial district that includes Fullerton, says officials told him that the FBI has begun an investigation into Thomas' death and indicated that the Department of Justice's civil-rights division may launch its own inquiry.
The reported federal inquiry comes days after Fullerton Councilman Bruce Whitaker urged city officials to release any evidence, including video, of the fight between Thomas and police. Graphic photos of Thomas' injuries taken by family members and first posted online at the Friends for Fullerton's future blog have increased public pressure.
"Rumors aren't answers, and there is a danger in too much speculation. But it is sometimes all too convenient for government to stand by this 'We have to wait for the investigation' bit," Nelson said. "I've got people in Fullerton who are scared now, and the silence sometimes is what is causing fear."
Nelson said he turned to the Department of Justice as a "neutral referee" to carry out an investigation.
"I feel horrible for a lot of people here," Nelson said. "The citizens of Fullerton deserve answers. The family of Kelly Thomas deserves answers."
Fullerton Police Sgt. Andrew Goodrich noted that the investigation into Thomas' death has been turned over to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.
"We believe there should be a transparent, neutral party investigation, and that is being conducted right now," Goodrich said. "We realize the images are troubling. But you have to have a thorough and complete investigation that looks at the facts as facts. We have to separate the emotions that everybody has."Source