The Fullerton City Council voted Tuesday night to hire a special investigator to probe the Kelly Thomas police beating as dozens flooded the council chambers to express their anger and distrust of city officials.
Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review that oversees the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, will conduct two investigations — one into the Kelly Thomas beating and another into police department practices, policies, and training. Gennaco said he plans to produce a public report that details his findings and recommendations.
Gennaco told the five-member council that the policy review can begin immediately, but his investigation of the beating likely won’t begin until after the district attorney decides whether to file criminal charges against the officers.
“Generally speaking, I understand the practice in this county is to wait until at least the district attorney has made a determination as to criminality before much can be done, certainly with regard to interviewing the involved officers,” Gennaco told the council.
Witnesses have described several Fullerton police officers severely beating Thomas, a 37-year-old schizophrenic homeless man, and shocking him with a stun gun as he lay on the ground on the night of July 5. Thomas fell into a coma and died five days later.
The district attorney’s criminal investigation depends largely on the coroner’s determination of the cause of Thomas’ death. The coroner’s office has said that the necessary toxicology tests may take up to six months.
While the council unanimously approved Gennaco’s investigation of policies and procedures, Councilman Bruce Whitaker voted against the probe into the beating, noting that it likely wouldn’t begin for months.
Whitaker, an aide to state Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-Fullerton), also suggested that the state attorney general “provide some monitoring or oversight to assure that a complete internal investigation is done,” though there was no action by the council.
About 50 local residents spoke to the council about the beating, many of them expressing outrage at a perceived lack of compassion and action by the council and police department.
Kelly Thomas’ stepmother, Dana Pape, responded to Mayor F. Richard Jones’s remark at a previous meeting that listening to the speakers was “torture.”
“Let’s watch that video and see who really got tortured,” said Pape, referring to a security camera video of the incident that officials have declined to release.
Several speakers called for the resignation of three council members: Jones, Pat McKinley and Don Bankhead.
“It’s gone really bad, and it’s not going to heal with you three guys sitting there,” said Chris Thompson, a Fullerton school board member and activist. “It would be the height of manly action to just quietly step down and let us thank you for the good things you have done.”
Several also spoke about past instances of Fullerton police appearing to use excessive force.
Lori Textor told the council that last August she and her 24-year old daughter saw Fullerton officers punch a man in the head, place a dark hood on him, and walk him down an alley.
“At no time did we see this young man resist arrest or try to get away or move his arms from his sides,” said Textor, as the mayor pounded his gavel to indicate her time was up.
Textor said she reported the incident to Stan Berry, the DA investigator now looking into the Thomas beating. She also claimed that Berry assured her the police department would give her a call, but she hasn’t received one yet.
“If you think this is going to subside, it is not. We are here to stay, we are here to fight, and we are here to get justice,” said Christine Walker, a Fullerton resident.
“This country was founded [on the principle] that all men are created equal, regardless of their condition,” said another speaker. “When we fail to protect the rights of those that need the most protection, we have failed to protect everyone’s rights.”
Nick Gerda is a Voice of OC intern. You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org