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Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes, who was promoted to chief to clean up the police department following the 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, by Fullerton officers, announced Friday he will retire to take a job with Disneyland.
“We have endured many challenges during this time (past five years) but I believe those challenges made us better and I truly believe the best days for our department are still to come,” said Hughes, 51, in a news release announcing his Nov. 11 retirement.
He will become vice president of security and emergency services at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, according to a separate memo he sent to city staff Oct. 26 that was provided to Voice of OC.
Neither the internal memo nor the news release mentioned Thomas, but among the significant changes to the department that Hughes cited in both documents were “embracing” community policing and “improving and developing strong trusting relationships within our community.”
“We were the first department in Orange County to deploy every officer with a Body Camera,” he said and “we created the county’s first full-time homeless liaison officer program” and partnered with mental health and groups that help the homeless “to deal with this tragic social problem that local law enforcement has been asked to resolve.”
The 37-year-old Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia, was living on the streets in Fullerton on July 5, 2011, when he was severely beaten by six Fullerton police officers. He died five days later.
The case drew nationwide attention both because of the growing concern about mentally ill homeless adults and deaths at the hands of police. It later was determined by police that Thomas had done nothing wrong.
Thomas death led to the retirement of then-Police Chief Mike Sellers, the recall of three city council members and criminal charges against three of the officers.
In 2014, a jury acquitted two of the three officers and following that, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas dropped charges against the third. None of the three are currently employed by the department.
Hughes, a 33-year veteran of the department, “brought much needed leadership and stability to our City and he deserves tremendous credit for the success and achievements of the Fullerton Police Department,” said City Manager Joe Felz in the news release. Felz will name an interim chief to temporarily fill in for Hughes.
Hughes said in the staff memo he will work for a period of time after his retirement as a reserve officer to finish some unspecified projects. Fullerton Human Resources Director Gretchen Beatty said in a telephone interview that Hughes reserve officer work “would not increase his retirement benefits.”
You can contact Tracy Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.