Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011 | The Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department will have autopsy results “soon” on the death of Kelly Thomas, the schizophrenic transient who died two months ago after being beaten by Fullerton police.
“I don’t have an exact timetable,” said spokesman Jim Amormino late Wednesday. “I would say a short period of time.”
He emphasized the coroner’s office was “not going to rush. We’re going to do a thorough job, and we’re not going to be rushed. We can’t take shortcuts.”
Earlier in the day the Thomas family’s lawyer released Kelly Thomas’ medical records and said he did so because he worries that local authorities, particularly District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, will delay releasing their findings in order to protect the officers involved.
“The DA’s office will come up with all kinds of excuses,” said Garo Mardirossian during a packed news conference near his Los Angeles office.
Rackauckas’ chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, didn’t return telephone calls requesting comment Wednesday afternoon. The office has stated that they were waiting for the autopsy to be completed.
Amormino said concerns that the Sheriff-Coroner Department would deliberately delay an investigation to help protect police officers are “pure nonsense.”
“Nobody’s protecting anybody,” he said. “Please quote me as saying that’s nonsense, because it is nonsense.”
UC Irvine Medical Center records state that Thomas, 37, died of “head trauma” that was “Due To: Assault.”
Thomas was beaten by Fullerton police officers on the night of July 5. He was declared brain dead and was disconnected from life support equipment July 10.
According to the records and accompanying photographs released by Mardirossian, Thomas “was tased [shocked by a stun gun] multiple times”; had a stun gun dart in his chest near his heart; and suffered several broken bones in his face and head, including the bone in his skull that separated his brain from his nasal passages. He had three broken ribs, and his injuries blinded his left eye.
Portions of a 2009 police training bulletin released with the medical records advises officers to “avoid intentionally targeting the chest area” to “increase effectiveness and avoid the remote potential risk of cardiac effect.”
But it was the head injuries that killed Thomas, Mardirossian said. Blood from those injuries drained into Thomas’ lungs. At one point in a bystander’s video, Thomas yells, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”
“He wound up choking on his own blood,” Mardirossian said.
The reports stated that emergency medical crews had to work 15 to 20 minutes to resuscitate Thomas, Mardirossian said.
“We don’t need any more delay,” said Mardirossian. “It’s as obvious as the noses on our faces. He died as the result of an assault.”
Mardirossian said not all of the six officers who were present when Thomas was beaten were equally at fault. He said some of them “should have stepped in and stopped the others” and called on them to tell authorities what happened that night.
“I can forgive them for not stepping in,” he said, “but I can’t forgive them for not coming forward now.”
If the district attorney and coroner don’t act soon, Mardirossian said, the next step will be to ask federal or state authorities to step in.
Last month Craig Harvey, spokesman for Los Angeles County’s independent coroner’s office, said it typically takes six to eight weeks for the results of toxicology tests to be obtained. On Saturday, Thomas will have been dead nine weeks.
Mardirossian’s concerns stem in part from the way the case was initially handled. Two of the officers were taken off patrol, but the other officers were not put on administrative leave until three weeks later after public complaints to the Fullerton City Council.
In addition, Mardirossian said, police initially reported some officers suffered broken bones in the altercation, which turned out to be untrue.
The DA’s office has declined to release a police tape of the beating, although officers were allowed to watch it before writing their reports.
The FBI’s civil rights division is already conducting a parallel investigation into Thomas’ beating.
Federal officials normally do not step in until local officials have done whatever they planned to do.
In 1992, for example, Los Angeles County prosecutors failed to persuade a jury to convict four Los Angeles police department officers of beating black motorist Rodney King. The acquittals set off six days of rioting in which at least 50 people died, and the National Guard was called in to help restore calm.
Following the acquittals, federal officials indicted the four officers on charges of civil rights violations, including failure to protect King from harm. In April 1993, two of the officers, Sgt. Stacey Koon and Officer Lawrence Powell, were found guilty. Two others were acquitted.