Michael F. Sellers, the Fullerton police chief who was harshly criticized after the police beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas and then went on extended medical leave, will officially retire this month.
A Feb. 3 news release from City Manager Joe Felz stated that Sellers, 60, told the city he’ll retire effective Feb. 18. He was police chief for nearly three years.
“We will be reviewing our options with the Council in the coming months and will determine the best course for the city in finding a replacement,” Felz stated in the news release.
Sellers “will be eligible for an industrial disability retirement based on findings from both his doctor and the city’s doctor, who determined Sellers is disabled and can no longer perform his job as Fullerton’s police chief,” according to Felz’s announcement.
The announcement didn’t specify Sellers’ disability.
It added that the retirement announcement “coincides with resolution of Sellers’ workers’ compensation claim.” Under that agreement, Sellers will receive $127,000 plus $22,500 in legal fees, said Felz. He said the agreement with Sellers “relieves the city from any future responsibility for medical costs related to the claim.”
William McCormick, the attorney who represented Fullerton in the workers’ compensation claim, said, “Chief Sellers’ treating doctor and an independent doctor both said he was unable to return to work at his job, and the settlement ended any potential liability for future medical treatment costs, which could be significant.”
Dan Hughes, a captain who has been with the department for 28 years, will remain acting chief until a permanent chief is in place, according to Felz.
Sellers went on medical leave Aug. 9, a month after officers beat and suffocated the 37-year-old Thomas at the Fullerton bus station. He died five days later. Two Fullerton police officers have been charged with second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
In public hearings before the Fullerton 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.
Sellers was named chief of the Fullerton department in May 2009, moving from Laguna Beach, where he served for four years. During his tenure there the Laguna Beach City Council also was embroiled in a homelessness issue and ultimately settled a case over how its police department treated those who lived on the streets.
Sellers began his law enforcement career in 1976 with the La Palma Police Department. He was a captain with the Los Alamitos Police Department and became chief of the Seal Beach Police Department in 1997. In 2005 he was named chief in Laguna Beach.