Fullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers, who has been the target of demonstrators protesting the beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas, has taken a leave of absence, the department announced Wednesday.
Sellers, who was appointed chief in Fullerton in May 2009 after serving as chief in Laguna Beach for four years, was placed on medical leave by his doctor, according to an announcement by City Manager Joe Felz that was first reported by the Liberal OC.
Two of the city’s five City Council members have called on Sellers to resign. Six officers are under investigation by the District Attorney’s office following the death July 10 of Kelly Thomas. A video shows officers beating the 37-year-old Thomas and repeatedly using a stun gun on him during a July 5 confrontation at the Fullerton bus station.
The FBI is conducting a civil rights investigation, and the city manager plans to ask the council to hire Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review. Gennaco will be asked to review the way the department handled the Kelly Thomas case.
Kelly Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, said hospital officials determined his son suffered “severe” face, head and neck injuries, including broken bones in his face, blindness in one eye and brain injuries from both blunt force trauma and lack of oxygen.
In public hearings before the City Council and in demonstrations outside the police station, Sellers was criticized for not immediately pulling the patrol officers off the streets and putting all six on administrative leave.
One officer was put on administrative leave July 10, the day Kelly Thomas died. The other five were taken off patrol July 29 and put on administrative leave Aug. 2, according to the police department.
Felz said Capt. Kevin Hamilton, commander of the police department’s detective division, has been appointed acting police chief.
The city announcement said Hamilton, 53, has been a Fullerton police officer since 1979 and “has worked virtually all divisions of the department, including patrol, traffic investigation, narcotics, SWAT, and detective bureau.” He was promoted to captain in 2010.
He was born and raised in Norwalk and has a bachelor of science degree in occupational studies from Long Beach State University.
— TRACY WOOD
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