Coverage of the trial involving two ex-police officers charged in the death of a homeless man

First Day On The Job for Fullerton's Acting Chief

Kevin Hamilton has replaced police chief Charlie Sellers as acting chief

By Olga Spilewsky and Vikki Vargas
|  Thursday, Sep 22, 2011  |  Updated 11:51 AM PDT
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First Day On The Job for Fullerton's Acting Chief

Hamilton takes over as acting chief of police in Fullerton.

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Thursday marked the first day on the job for Fullerton's acting police chief: Kevin Hamilton.

"The only way to effectively police a city, is if the police does it with the trust and confidence of the community," said Hamilton.

Hamilton admits he must regain that trust.

He has replaced Chief Michael Sellers, who has been under fire for his handling of the investigation into the death of a homeless man. Kelly Thomas died after an alleged confrontation with police.

The six officers in question are now on administrative leave and Hamilton said that he has worked alongside all of them in his 32 years with the force.

More: Timeline of Events
| Parents File Claim

"These are men that I know and it certainly has an impact. I also understand, before I even took the job as a police captain or a police lieutenant, that this is something that could happen," he said.

Hamilton has worked for the Fullerton Police Department since 1979. He has experience in almost every division, city officials said. Hamilton, 53, was born and raised in Norwalk and has a bachelor's degree in occupational studies from California State University Long Beach.

Hamilton has seen the images capturing what took place the night of July 5th. But he said, that alone, will not answer every question.

"Mostly, I am aware of what weapons we used, and I'm aware there is a significant struggle on that videotape," he added.

37-year-old Kelly Thomas was arrested for allegedly breaking into cars. His father said a police beating caused his son's death five days later. But, he is more confident that he will find out what happened to his son now that Hamilton is taking the reins.

"I have talked with him since day one," said Ron Thomas, whose son Kelly, was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. "He has been nothing but exceptionally good to me. He has real ownership in this department, and I think it's going to be a lot better off."

Critics of how the investigation has been handled thus far, including council members, contend police chief Michael Sellers never took charge of the controversy. Sellers got a note from his doctor on Wednesday asking he be put on medical leave for 30 days. Officials say he will be paid and cannot be fired during that time.

"I’ve talked to Captain Hamilton and I think he sounds pretty confident to me that he's going to get things going," said Cathy Thomas, Kelly's mother. "The fact that he's already come out and made statements, is showing good faith to me."

Cathy Thomas wants to believe the investigation into her son's death will lead to the discipline of the officers involved. The family has filed a claim against the city.

Timothy Russell is homeless. He hopes the change in command will force officers to treat people like himself differently.

"I think it will make a difference because they'll have someone new coming in, someone who knows what's happening," said Russell. "I bet the Chief is running scared."

Meantime, Hamilton is waiting for the district attorney's report on the officers.

"If the officers are found culpable for criminal conduct or if they are found culpable for misconduct internally, they will be held accountable," he said. "And, they should be held accountable."

On Friday morning, the city council will meet in a closed session to discuss hiring an oversight reviewer. This would be someone, who would conduct internal affairs investigations, along with looking at the training policies and supervision of officers in the field.

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