Fullerton Settles Kelly Thomas Wrongful Death Suit for $4.9 Million

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The Fullerton City Council Monday agreed to a $4.9 million settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the father of mentally-ill transient Kelly Thomas, who died in July 2011 after after being beaten by six Fullerton police officers.

The Council approved the settlement after an hourlong closed-session meeting, but city officials had little to say about it terms. The amount was confirmed by the courts’ spokeswoman, Gwen Vieau.

“It’s still a pending situation,” said City Attorney Richard Jones of the settlement amount. However, he said if the unnamed insurers agree to the settlement, it means “no city funds” will be spent.

The settlement came just as lawyers were  to begin the civil trial in the lawsuit Ron Thomas filed against the city, two former police chiefs and five officers who were involved in the July 5, 2011 beating of Kelly Thomas in the Fullerton bus station parking lot. The 37-year-old schizophrenic never regained consciousness and died five days later.

Ron Thomas said in a telephone interview the $4.9 million is high enough to meet his goal of “making a statement” that Fullerton, which he said initiated the agreement, symbolically “acknowledges wrongdoing.” He said the actual written settlement includes a sentence which says the city is paying the money but not admitting anyone did anything wrong.

The $4.9million will cover all of his legal bills, Ron Thomas said, but he declined to specify how much he would receive after that.

He said he wasn’t surprised by the settlement offer because his lawyers had advised him such things typically occur just before a civil trial is to begin.

As part of the civil trial, both sides planned to use a video compiled by the District Attorney’s office after the beating that showed officers hitting Kelly Thomas, using a taser on him, and sitting on his chest. The video helped turn the death into international news that ultimately cost Fullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers his job, as well as three city council members.

Click here to view the video.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged officer Manuel Ramos with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter; and officers Jay Cicinelli and Joseph Wolfe involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. However, a jury acquitted Ramos and Cicinelli of all charges in January, 2014, and the charges against Wolfe were subsequently dropped.

Still unclear is what information will be publicly available if the settlement goes through, particularly any evidence developed that sheds light on what the officers said and did as they filled out their reports on the night of the beating.

Typically, government agencies settle controversial cases to keep such information from becoming public.

“We (the public) have no answers,” Jane Rands told the city council during a brief public comment period before they went behind closed doors.

“In this process, there is no transparency,” added another speaker, Laurel Laughlin.

Voice of OC reported one document that sheds light on the officers’ actions determined three of the four Fullerton police officers primarily involved in Kelly Thomas’ death violated a series of department policies, including use of force.

In a news release issued after the city settlement announcement, Ron Thomas’ lawyer, Garo Mardirossian said the settlement came as Ramos was scheduled to testify about his actions captured on the 33-minute video. Ramos no longer is with the department.

Ron Thomas said he has two goals for the future: working to get severely mentally ill adults off the streets and changing California’s 37-year-old Peace Officer Bill of Rights so that the public can learn when officers are fired and disciplined. The 1978 law restricts public access to law enforcement disciplinary records and civilian complaints.

With the resolution of the Ron Thomas civil case, the only outstanding action is a still-pending federal civil rights investigation. Typically, federal officials don’t comment on the status of such cases.

You can contact Tracy Wood at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.

  • Devon Rémy

    Yes, it just buries the dirt ever deeper.

  • Jacki Livingston

    I am glad for Kelly’s father. There is nothing worse than a parent losing a child to murder. I remember being in the DA’s office, to be interviewed by an investigator ADA regarding whistleblowing, and I overheard what I am sure was supposed to be a private conversation between some men in that office, and they were talking about the trial of the cops. They were laughing about the “dog and pony show” that TRack was putting on for the public. They were clearly in the know about the farce performance, and that these cops would never spend a day in prison for murder. The Rack knows who his friends are. He would never have risked the ire of the police unions. Tony might be lazy and corrupt, but he isn’t stupid.

  • Imjesayin

    But, but, but, I thought they were “not guilty”?! smh

  • buzzookaman

    Repeal POBOR and hold police officers accoountable.

    • LFOldTimer

      The safety unions own the ones who have the authority to repeal POBOR. It’s a big club. And we ain’t in it. The probability of Sacramento repealing POBOR is about the same as you and me sprouting wings and flying to the moon.

  • Greg Diamond

    I’m not going to form an opinion before talking to Ron Thomas directly. When I spoke to him at one rally, he was clear that he wanted injunctive relief rather than a cash award. On the other hand, he’s going to lose half of this — or maybe more, or maybe less — in legal costs and fees as it is.

    If he uses his wealth to try to take down POBOR, I’ll have no complaint against what he tried to do here. The City was clearly willing to pay a huge amount of (insurer) money to avoid injunctive relief. But one can always lose at trial, so at some point if they’re that intransigent it’s hard not to take this whopping settlement amount. I hope that he puts it to good use — I expect that he will.

    • Debby Bodkin

      Most likely, Mr. Thomas will not be allowed to talk to anyone after the settlement papers are filed. Hopefully, he will not be gagged.

      • LFOldTimer

        I’ve never heard of a case when a government entity (city, county, etc…) settled a case for such a large amount and allowed to plantiff to publicly blab about the details that culminated in the payout. Oh, and the evidence almost always gets buried too. One grand exception was after police shot an unarmed man in Gardena. The city settled a lawsuit prompted by the shooting for $4.7M. The police tried to bury the video after the settlement but the media (LA Times, AP, etc..) went to Federal court to get it released and a judge granted their request. I wish the media would be that proactive in Orange County relative to these large police settlements we’ve seen. It’s a sham when the taxpayers are forced to pay these outrageous settlements and aren’t even allowed to see the evidence that supported the payout. It’s wrong and it’s unjust. If they don’t want to show the people the reason for the huge settlements the money should come directly out of the police budgets. Otherwise there’s no incentive for the police to behave themselves. It becomes a farce. The innocent taxpayers get punished but the actual violators walk away unscathed.

        • David Zenger

          “Innocent taxpayers?”

          We voted for all these city councils and for the DA, too.

          Can we agree to “self-abusive taxpayers.”

          • LFOldTimer

            What’s a voter to do? Either they give us a choice of Frankenstein or Dracula – or they lie to us on the campaign trail and once elected we have to wait 4 years to toss the bum out. We can’t get our votes back nor can we get whatever money we donated to their campaigns refunded. Lying to attain high office is perfectly legal under the current system. We’re screwed with no recourse other than to wait for the next election.

          • David Zenger

            “What’s a voter to do?”

            There are very few good options, true, because public office tends to attract the most ego-driven, talent-free people. At best you get utterly average people; at worst you get some real head cases and outright crooks.

            I rarely vote for any one I haven’t seen in action, and even then they will almost always let you down (“we can’t fight every battle” – my most hated of all political weenie excuses).

          • LFOldTimer

            Did you happen to read the Fullerton City Council’s reason for approving (3-2 vote) the $5M settlement that will effectively bury the evidence and keep the people in the dark? Basically they said: ‘We had to spend your money to save you money’. Orwell couldn’t make this stuff up. And of course the old Bill Clinton line: ‘Let’s forget about the past and move forward’. And again, the ploy is to make the people believe that the insurance company will take the hit, yet concomitantly claim that the insurance company pressured them into approving the settlement. ha. Anybody with a clue knows that insurance companies don’t take hits. They pass their costs off in form of higher premiums to recoup all payouts, plus more. I warned everyone to prepare yourselves for the well-oiled propoganda machine. Their lips are moving in Fullerton again. ha.

  • LFOldTimer

    “It’s still a pending situation,” said City Attorney Richard Jones of the settlement amount. However, he said if the unnamed insurers agree to the settlement, it means “no city funds” will be spent”
    ha. As if insurance companies are that stupid. As if they’re going to pay $5M and not get anything in return for it. ha. What the City Attorney is not telling you is that IF the insurance companies pay the settlement the insurance premiums for the City of Fullerton will likely skyrocket to the moon. In the long run insurance companies never lose. They ALWAYS get their money back plus more. And in the end the taxpayers get caught holding the empty bag. I suspect you will hear lots of ‘damage control’ press releases coming from the City of Fullerton this week. Don’t swallow the bait.

  • LFOldTimer

    So, another ‘bury the evidence from the public’ $5M police settlement, eh? Now the public will never really know the truth that would get exposed at the civil trial. All the evidence that was not exposed at the criminal trial that potentially implicated high-ranking officials. A city doesn’t just settle a case for $5M unless the evidence is overwhelming and has widespread implications. And no doubt there’s a gag order on Kelly’s dad so not much can get revealed by him or his attorney. So the public will never really know the truth. And the public (the Fullerton taxpayers) are forced to pay the $5M without really knowing what went on. The details get buried. Seems unfair, doesn’t it? Seems like those who have to pay the bill should know everything, right? It doesn’t work that way. My guess is that the orders for the Council to approve the $5M settlement came from way way above. A government “of, by and for the People”? Hogwash.

    • David Zenger

      I will always wonder whether or not there was a conspiracy between members of the FPD and the operators of the Slime Bar to teach Kelly Thomas a lesson he would never forget. The evidence points to it but the “Good As No DA, DA” never touched it.

      And now we shall never know.

      BTW, wasn’t Ron Thomas the guy who said he would never settle? Guess it was always about the loot, eh, Ron?

      • LFOldTimer

        Yeah, David. That’s a good point about Kelly’s dad. I thought his priority was for the truth to get exposed, especially after the sham criminal trial where none of the jurors met with the press after the ‘not guilty’ verdicts to explain their rationale. At all the controversial highly publicized criminal trials I followed across the nation jurors couldn’t wait to give statements to the press about their individual deliberations. Heck, some even wrote books on it. But total silence after Kelly’s murder trial. I found that rather odd. Many of us couldn’t figure out the ‘not guilty’ verdicts with all the audio and video evidence and expert witness testimony from those who tried to save Kelly’s life and examined his corpse after the fact. Very strange indeed. Still a mystery to me. But with the $5M the settlement we’ll never find out. Typical. Most police lawsuits end this way if you think back. And each time the evidence gets buried from the ones who get stuck holding the invoice. Any way you size it up – it’s wrong. It’s not justice. And anyone who claims it is justice is not thinking it through. Kelly’s probably spitting in his grave.

      • the714

        Anyone who believed that this wasn’t all about the Benjamins also believed that a former USMC air base would be transformed into Central Park West.

        • David Zenger

          True enough. There were enough gullible saps who had been pushed around by the Cop Culture to buy into Ron Thomas’s B.S.

          There were also quite a few troopers in “Kelly’s Army” who figured out his angle pretty quickly. I was lucky; I wasn’t a sucker because I knew he had been trying to get someone, anyone, to pay for that picture of Kelly before they pulled the plug.

          I wonder how much Mardirossian has been fronting Ol’ Ron waiting for the Big Payday.

  • 4 Dead in Ohio

    The town councils of our municipalities need to consider attaching police pension funds to mitigate the financial costs eventually paid by the citizens. This will provide a self-correcting remedy within the ranks. It will also provide cleansing of the ranks of those unfit to interact with the public in positions of authority.

    • Devon Rémy

      I agree. The judgment doesn’t hurt the perpetrators when it comes from the insurance company and as you said, ultimately the citizens. The punishment needs to be applied to the guilty party, and it needs to hurt. And yes, such a policy will help purge the department of the least competent and most brutal. This was a horrible incident that never should have escalated to the point that it did. A schizophrenic guy who weighs what, 135 pounds, is probably not going to be great at following orders. But two or three burly, aggressive and angry louts can’t control themselves and behave professionally? If you’re good at your job, no one gets hurt.

  • Paul Lucas

    The trial of Kellys murderers was pre-meditatatedly scuttled by T Rack. He needs to be prosecuted for throwing the case against these three monsters of which he is equal to via his actions.

    • Devon Rémy

      I cannot imagine what those jurors saw and heard in that courtroom. I was stunned at the acquittals.

      • Debby Bodkin

        The fact that one of Track’s former Asst. DA’s was the jury foreman, one can only wonder WTH Track and the defense attorneys were thinking. This would not have happened in the real world, only in an OC court of law.

        • LFOldTimer

          What a coincidence, eh? A former DA asst. as the jury foreman. And then after the verdict was read all the jurors ran off without even one providing a rationale for the aquittal when to the common observer all the evidence seemingly pointed to a guilty verdict. This was sort of like OC’s OJ trial. And all the jurors disappeared. Very odd. Wouldn’t you say?

        • Devon Rémy

          How on earth did that pass voir dire? It’s a blatant conflict of interest.