An attorney hired by Fullerton city officials to probe the Kelly Thomas police beating death will present his first report next week: an investigation of apparently misleading public statements by the police department after the incident.
Michael Gennaco’s report will be the first public accounting of the department’s initial portrayal of the beating. He’s scheduled to present it at a special Fullerton City Council meeting Feb. 21.
Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, died last summer after what witnesses and the district attorney describe as a brutal, unprovoked police beating.
Two Fullerton police officers have been criminally charged for their roles in the beating — one with second-degree murder, the other with involuntary manslaughter. Their attorneys have maintained that the officers are innocent.
The district attorney’s office has cited crucial evidence that led to the filing of criminal charges: surveillance video and audio recordings from devices worn by the officers. Those would have been available for review by the police department immediately after the incident.
But in the days after the beating, the police department’s spokesman told local news media that Thomas initiated a fight with the officers.
“We don’t know why he was so combative and resistant to the officers, but it took upwards of five to six officers to subdue him,” Sgt. Andrew Goodrich told the Orange County Register.
“Sometimes when we take people into custody who don’t want to go into custody, we have to use force,” he said.
The contradictory information has led a Fullerton councilman to allege that a cover-up took place.
In an interview with PBS SoCal in October, Councilman Bruce Whitaker said the internal information he received about the beating was “extremely misleading” and “might be an intentional misrepresentation.”
The Fullerton City Council hired Gennaco last August amid a torrent of public anger over how city leaders responded to the incident. The officers remained on street duty for weeks, and police chief Michael Sellers would not agree to any interviews with news media.
Sellers was placed on extended medical leave in August and is expected to retire Saturday. Capt. Dan Hughes will remain acting chief until a permanent replacement is found, according to city officials.
The investigator’s second report will review Fullerton’s police policies and procedures and is expected in late March or early April, according to the city.
A third report, an administrative investigation into the conduct of the six officers who were present at the beating, will be presented to the Fullerton police chief at an unspecified date.