Death of Kelly Thomas

Death of Kelly Thomas
Death of Kelly Thomas
Kelly Thomas on May, 19, 2002[1]
Kelly Thomas on May, 19, 2002[1]
Date July 5, 2011 (2011-07-05)
Time 8:30 PM PDT (03:30 UTC)
Location Fullerton, California, United States
1 killed

Kelly Thomas (April 5, 1974 – July 10, 2011) was a 37-year-old homeless man suffering from schizophrenia, and living on the streets of Fullerton, California. He was fatally beaten by members of the Fullerton Police Department on July 5, 2011. Thomas was initally taken to St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton but transferred to the UC Irvine Medical Center. He was comatose on arrival there and not expected to recover. He never regained consciousness.[2] Medical records show that bones in his face were broken and he choked on his own blood.[3] The coroner concluded that compression of the thorax made it impossible for Thomas to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen.[4] His parents removed him from life support five days later, and he died from his injuries on July 10, 2011.[5] Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter; Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of excessive force.[4][6]



Kelly Thomas was born April 5, 1974 to Ron Thomas, a former Orange County Sheriff's deputy,[7] and Cathy Thomas.[8] A diagnosed schizophrenic, he was a "fixture" among Fullerton's homeless population.[9]

The incident

Kelly Thomas, after a fatal beating by officers of the Fullerton, California Police Department

On July 5, 2011, at about 8:30 PM, officers of the Fullerton Police Department responded to a call of someone vandalizing cars near the Fullerton Transportation Center. While investigating, they encountered the shirtless and disheveled Thomas and attempted to search him. According to statements given by the officers, Thomas was uncooperative and resisted when they attempted to search him, so backup was called. The officers then repeatedly shocked Thomas with Tasers, beat him with the butts of the Tasers and flashlights, and slammed him into the ground.[10] A video of the event surfaced, and Thomas can be heard repeatedly screaming in pain while officers tasered him (up to five times according to a witness statement) in the video, and screaming "Dad! Dad!".[11] Six officers were involved in subduing Thomas, who was unarmed and had a history of mental illness. Thomas was initially taken to St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton but was transferred immediately to the UC Irvine Medical Center with severe injuries to his head, face, and neck.[12]

Orange County district attorney Tony Rackauckas gave a detailed account of the events during a press conference on September 21, 2011. Using digital audio recording devices carried by the officers, surveillance video from a pole camera at the Fullerton Transportation Center, and other evidence, Rackauckas was able to show that Thomas did comply with orders from Officer Ramos, who had put on latex gloves and asked Thomas "Now see my fists? They are getting ready to fuck you up".[13] Rackauckas went on to describe how Thomas begged for his life, before being beaten to death.[14]

The aftermath

The story of his beating broke shortly before his death.[15][16] An investigation into the beating was undertaken by the Orange County district attorney starting on July 7, 2011,[17] and later the FBI became involved.[18] The decision to involve the FBI was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims the Orange County District Attorney has an "abysmal" record when investigating shootings with police involvement.[17]

Kelly Thomas was removed from life support and died on July 10, 2011, five days after the beating.[19] Initial reports claimed that Thomas had been very combative with officers and two had suffered broken bones.[20] Later, the police department confirmed that no officers had suffered any broken bones, and that no one other than Thomas had any significant injuries.[21] By the end of July, several news outlets had picked up the story and it had become international news.[22]

On July 18, 2011, a large protest outside the Fullerton Police Department was organized by several people, including the victim's father Ron Thomas.[23]

Ron Thomas speaks to the Fullerton City Council and the media.

On August 2, 2011 many members of the public spoke out about the beating at the biweekly City Council meeting at the Fullerton City Hall.[24] Over 70 members of the public spoke to the City Council, the vast majority of whom criticized the police. Among the speakers was Ron Thomas, the father of Kelly Thomas, as well as Kelly Thomas's stepmother. The public comment session lasted for approximately three hours. The City Attorney emphasized that the City Council could not respond to the comments, however following the public comment period discussion was given to provide clarification on the city's policy regarding the mentally ill. In addition, Tony Bushala, a local developer and conservative activist, announced plans to recall three members of the City Council thought to have responded insufficiently to the beating.[25]

On Saturday August 6, 2011, a large street protest was held outside of the Fullerton City Hall. Activists at that protest, which was attended by hundreds of people, called for the release of a surveillance video shot by cameras installed at the bus depot and carried signs with slogans like "Jail All Killer Cops" and "End Police Brutality."[26]

All six officers involved in the beating were placed on administrative leave and several people, including two members of the Fullerton City Council, have called for the resignation of police Chief Michael Sellers,[27] who was later placed on medical leave for undisclosed reasons.[28] Over sixteen thousand people have signed an online petition calling for the firing of all six police officers that were present during the beating. [29][30]

Fullerton City Councilman Bruce Whitaker later went on television stating his belief that there was a cover-up of the beating of Thomas within the police department and that the six officers involved in the beating falsified their reports on the incident. [31]

Cause of Death

On September 21, 2011, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas held a press conference to announce the results of the investigation. Rackauckas announced that according to the Orange County Coroner, the cause of death was "asphyxia caused by mechanical chest compression with blunt cranial-facial injuries sustained during physical altercation with law enforcement." Rackauckas said Thomas died because of the force of the officers on his chest, which made it impossible for him to breathe. This caused Thomas to become unconscious. He then slipped into a coma and died when taken off life support five days later.

Rackauckas said the Coroner also said the injuries to Thomas' face and his head contributed to his death. Also contributing to his death were brain injuries, facial and rib fractures, and the extensive bruising and abrasions he suffered during the beating, which left him lying in a "growing pool of blood," Rackauckas said. The toxicology report shows that Thomas had no illicit drugs or alcohol in his system. Thomas was severely bleeding and struggled and pleaded, "I can't breathe," "Dad, help me." But the officers did not reduce their level of force during the nearly 10-minute assault, the district attorney said. [32]

See Also

  • List of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States


  1. ^ Lauren Lloyd (October 24, 2011). "Over 14K People Want Fullerton Police Officers Fired for Murder of Kelly Thomas". LAist. Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  2. ^ Sewell, Abby; Mather, Kate (August 02, 2011). "Fatal Fullerton police beating of homeless man sparks outcry". Los Angeles Times. 
  3. ^ Amy Taxin & Greg Risling (September 21, 2011). "APNewsBreak: CA police officer charged with murder". Yahoo News. Retrieved October 29, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Ng, Christina; Risling (21 September 2011). "2 police officers charged in death of Calif man". Retrieved 29, October 2011. 
  5. ^ Denisse Salazar (July 29, 2011). "Man who scuffled with police dies". OC Register. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  6. ^ Ian Lovett (September 22, 2011). "California: Police Charged in Killing". New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  7. ^ Steve Lopez (August 6, 2011). "Kelly Thomas' father fights for justice". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  8. ^ Gina Ferazzi (August 2, 2011). "Homeless man dies after run-in with Fullerton police". Los Angeles Times.,0,3009403.photogallery?index=la-me004_homeless.5.gmf. Retrieved August 16, 2011. 
  9. ^ Sewell, Abby; Winton, Richard (August 11, 2011). "Embattled Fullerton police chief goes on medical leave". Los Angeles Times.,0,6106396.story. 
  10. ^ Kate Mather and Abby Sewell (July 02, 2011). "Fullerton police beating of homeless man is under investigation". Los Angeles Times.,0,4180513.story. Retrieved September 02, 2011. 
  11. ^ friendsforfullerton (July 23, 2011). "Police Beating of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, CA". YouTube. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  12. ^ Eliza Fisher (July 27, 2011). "Police Beat Homeless Fullerton Man Kelly Thomas To Death". Huffington Post. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  13. ^ Ben Welsh (September 21, 2011). "Charges against police in homeless man’s death". LA Times. Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  14. ^ Abby Sewell and Richard Winton (September 21, 2011). "Kelly Thomas begged for his life from 'menacing' officer, D.A. says". LA Times. Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  15. ^ Sean Emery (July 06, 2011). "Man who scuffled with police still in critical condition". OC Register. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  16. ^ Sam Quinones (July 11, 2011). "Homeless man dies 5 days after fight with Fullerton police". Los Angles Times. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  17. ^ a b Ponsi, Lou (August 04, 2011). "ACLU: D.A. should not investigate fatal police fight". The Orange County Register. Retrieved August 06, 2011. 
  18. ^ "FBI investigating Fullerton police beating". KABC-TV Los Angeles. July 30, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Family says beaten man at hands of Fullerton police taken off life support". KABC-TV Los Angeles. July 10, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Family seeks witnesses to Fullerton police beating". KABC-TV Los Angeles. July 11, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  21. ^ Alex Stouffer (July 20, 2011). "Protests & The Investigation of Kelly Thomas’s Death". Fullertonian. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  22. ^ Rachel Quigley (July 29, 2011). "Caught on tape: Police beat and taser 'gentle' mentally-ill homeless man to death". Daily Mail. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  23. ^ E.D. Kain (July 30, 2011). "Protests, Investigation Follow Police Beating of Kelly Thomas". Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  24. ^ "City Council/Redevelopment Agency Regular Meeting". City of Fullerton, California. August 02, 2011. Retrieved August 07, 2011. 
  25. ^ Ian Lovett (August 03, 2011). "Death of Homeless Man After Beating by Police Stirs Outrage". The New York Times. Retrieved August 07, 2011. 
  26. ^ Richard Winton and Abby Sewell (August 06, 2011). "Hundreds protest Fullerton man's death, call for release of video". Los Angeles Times.,0,6368545.story. Retrieved August 06, 2011. 
  27. ^ Abby Sewell and Richard Winton (August 04, 2011). "Fullerton police draw fire for silence in homeless man's death". Los Angeles Times.,0,5949987.story. Retrieved August 06, 2011. 
  28. ^ Abby Sewell and Richard Winton (August 11, 2011). "Embattled Fullerton police chief goes on medical leave". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 16, 2011. 
  29. ^ Paul Orloff. "Remove All 6 Fullerton Police Officers Involved in the Murder of Kelly Thomas". Retrieved October 29, 2011. 
  30. ^ Lauren Lloyd (October 24, 2011). "Over 14K People Want Fullerton Police Officers Fired for Murder of Kelly Thomas". LAist. Retrieved October 29, 2011. 
  31. ^ Nick Gerda (October 25, 2011). "Councilman Alleges Cover-Up in Kelly Thomas Police Beating". Voice of OC. Retrieved October 29, 2011. 
  32. ^ Denisse Salazar (September 21, 2011). "Kelly Thomas died of asphyxia, report says". Voice of OC. Retrieved October 29, 2011. 

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