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

Fullerton Homeless Task Force to Begin Work

Residents target council members, despite homeless task force effort

By Vikki Vargas and Bill French
|  Thursday, Oct 20, 2011  |  Updated 6:45 AM PDT
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A task force will spearhead an effort to improve treatment of the homeless in Fullerton. But that's not enough for citizens who want to recall three council members.

Vikki Vargas and Lori Bentley

A task force will spearhead an effort to improve treatment of the homeless in Fullerton. But that's not enough for citizens who want to recall three council members.

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The Fullerton Homeless Task Force, created after a homeless man died following a confrontation with police, will begin its work in the city Thursday.

The task force is beginning as two Fullerton police officers are facing felony charges of murder and using excessive force in the alleged beating of Kelly Thomas.

Special Section: The Kelly Thomas Case

Rusty Kennedy will chair the task force. He says, as a city, Fullerton is reaching out to the homeless.

Police in Fullerton say they have been trained to regard homeless men and women as members of three categories: the "have nots," "cannots" and "will nots." Under the definitions that have been in place up to now, beating victim Kelly Thomas may have fit into all three categories.

"It can happen again, depending on the emotions and who is involved," said the victim's father, Ron Thomas, who has waged a crusade against the Fullerton Police Department since his son's death. "We have to educate the officers and the public."

Police officers say curtailing crime, while dealing with the mentally ill, is a balancing act. Since the Thomas beating in July, most of the department's 220 members have been retrained on a variety of homeless issues.

"Our officers are trained," said Sgt. Andrew Goodrich. "They try to use compassion, but we have to enforce the law, and there are complaints we are responding to."

But the effort isn't satisfying everyone. There is political finger pointing underway, with critics trying to recall Mayor Richard Jones, Councilman Don Bankhead and County Member Pat McKinley.

"None of the council members know how to work with the police," said Ron Thomas. "They don’t work together."

"We have to do something now," said Kennedy. "We can’t let this political conflict get in the way. We have to ask what can we do together."

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