Seven months after his son, Kelly Thomas, died from injuries inflicted by Fullerton police officers, Ron Thomas said Wednesday the city's mayor is drafting a letter of apology.
Ron Thomas announced in an email to news organizations that he received a text message from Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva stating in part, "I will be formally working on an apology letter to clear Kelly's name."
She also stated she was talking to City Manager Joe Felz about creating a sign and possibly a bench as a memorial to the 37-year-old, who suffered from severe schizophrenia and was living on the streets. He died, according to the Orange County sheriff-coroner, of suffocation and head injuries inflicted on July 5 by six officers outside the Fullerton bus station. Two of the officers face criminal charges.
Quirk-Silva wrote, "I have all ready talked to Joe [Felz] about formally putting a sign that says Kelly's Corner and a bench — perhaps the one year anniversary would be a good date to shoot for??," according to Thomas' email.
"This is great news for all of us," Thomas wrote. "I look at this as what I have been telling everyone that I want to work with the City to do. Rebuild Fullerton. Thank you Sharon."
Quirk-Silva said in a telephone interview that she is working with the city’s lawyers to draft language "within the boundaries of making sure we do not jeopardize any investigation." She said her letter wouldn’t be on the council agenda or require other council members to vote on it.
The council would, however, have to vote on any sign or bench for the suggested memorial at the spot near the bus station where an informal memorial has been maintained by Kelly Thomas’ family and supporters. That too would have to be done in a way that didn’t jeopardize ongoing investigations, said Quirk-Silva.
Thomas had urged the City Council Tuesday night to publicly apologize for the death of his 37-year-old son, saying "I want Kelly's name cleared once and for all."
An initial report presented Tuesday to the Fullerton City Council by attorney Michael Gennaco asserted there was no evidence Kelly Thomas possessed stolen property when he was stopped by police.
But, Gennaco said, before police dispatchers had time to tell that to officers on the scene, the fatal beating had already begun. Thomas wound up in a coma and died five days later.
In September, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter against Officer Manuel Ramos. Rackauckas said Ramos instigated the fight. Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. The preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 28.
The city government and Police Department have come under intense criticism for their actions following Thomas' death. Former Police Chief Michael Sellers, who went on medical leave a month after Kelly Thomas died and retired last week, had refused to give news interviews about the case and had waited several weeks before putting the officers involved on leave.
The Police Department and City Council didn't openly and fully correct mistakes when misinformation was released, and neither the department nor the council majority publicly expressed concern. There was legal information they weren't allowed to release, but official silence and poorly worded explanations severely damaged the city's reputation.
Longtime opponents of three of the council members used the Kelly Thomas case to help garner signatures for a recall election. Council members Pat McKinley, Don Bankhead and Richard Jones will face voters June 5.
With a unanimous voice vote, the council certified Tuesday night that recall backers had gathered enough signatures to schedule a special election and set it to coincide with the statewide June 5 primary.
— TRACY WOOD