Report in Kelly Thomas Case: Fullerton Police Department “Suffered From Culture of Complacency”

Kelly Thomas died on July 10, 2011, five days after he was involved in a nighttime altercation with six Fullerton police officers at a bus depot.

For years, the Fullerton Police Department -- which is at the center of an investigation into the fatal beating of Kelly Thomas last July -- suffered from a "culture of complacency that came from the top down" and misconduct that should have been addressed was ignored, according to an independent report commissioned by the City of Fullerton.

"More can and should be done in reforming the way in which [the Fullerton Police Department] hires and trains its officers, investigates and reviews uses of force, learns from those force incidents, holds its officers accountable and considers improvements in policy," according to the 53-page report by Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the Los Angeles Office of Independent Review.

In his third and final report, Gennaco recommends nearly 60 ways to reform the city's embattled police department, including the creation of a corps of specially trained officers to interact with the city's homeless population, to which Thomas belonged.

"Did he behave the way you'd want a model citizen to behave? Probably not," Gennaco said. "But he's a mentally ill homeless individual.

"Police officers should expect, in certain cases, that not everyone's going to love having to deal with police officers and should learn how to deal with those kinds of cases in a way that's professional and doesn't necessarily need to resort to force."

Ron Thomas, the victim's father, says he was briefed on the contents of the report before Gennaco presented it to the Fullerton City Council Tuesday night.

Thomas said that of the 59 recommendations outlined in the report, he agreed with all but one -- that three of the six officers at the scene of the beating will be allowed to keep their jobs. About a dozen of those recommendations are already in effect and Thomas said Genacco assured him the rest will be implemented.

Tuesday’s report is the latest in a series meant to examine the department’s internal affairs and how best to handle information during major incidents. The investigation was commissioned following the in-custody death of a 37-year-old homeless man.

The first public report – released in February – called for improved processes within city law enforcement but found "no evidence of intent to deceive or falsity" on the part of Fullerton police in the aftermath of Thomas' death. 

That initial report gently chided the department for a series of missteps following Thomas' "tragic in-custody death," including releasing the dead man's mugshot from an unrelated event and failing to correct misinformation about the extent of officer injuries related to the altercation.

The second report, which focused on the actions of the officers involved, was released in May and presented privately to Capt. Dan Hughes, the acting police chief.

The Kelly Thomas Case: Timeline

Thomas died on July 10, 2011, five days after he was involved in a nighttime altercation with six Fullerton police officers at a bus depot.

The confrontation was captured on surveillance and cellphone videos, in which Thomas can be heard repeatedly calling out for his father and pleading with the officers to stop. That footage synched with audio from recording devices worn by the officers depicts the July 5, 2011, encounter.

Then-officer Manuel Ramos’ exchange with Thomas can be heard on the audio recording:

Ramos: "Now you see my fists?"

Thomas: "Yeah, what about ‘em?"

Ramos: "They’re getting ready to 'f' you up."

Thomas: "Start punching dude."

The video shows Ramos and another officer striking Thomas, who was homeless and suffered from Schizophrenia, with their batons. More officers arrive including then-Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, who uses his stun gun.

In May, Ramos and Cicinelli were ordered to stand trial in Thomas’ death. Both men ended their employment with the city on July 3 and July 20 respectively.

Ramos faces a potential sentence of 15 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, four years if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Another officer, Joe Wolfe, who was at the scene of the altercation but not ordered to stand trial, ended his career with Fullerton Police on July 16.

The other three officers involved in the incident will return to desk jobs at the Fullerton Police Department and will not be assigned to patrol, Hughes said in a statement Tuesday.

The latest report concluded that those officers were not "responsible for any criminal misconduct." But, Hughes said, they did violate "some policy guidelines and will be appropriately disciplined."

Outrage over the beating reached Fullerton City Hall, where three councilmembers were overwhelmingly voted out of office in June. The recall effort was spurred by organizers who cited a lack of transparency and leadership from the council in the wake of Thomas’ death.

A year after his son's beating, Thomas' father, Ron, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Fullerton.

Thomas' mother, Cathy, accepted a $1 million settlement with the city in May. In exchange, she agreed not to pursue any further claims or lawsuits seeking damages for the July 2011 death of her son.

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