By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Mardirossian, who is also representing Ron Thomas in a civil lawsuit against Fullerton, says that in building the Thomas case, he has come across numerous other victims, including Quiñonez and Mam. "There's pattern and practice and a culture in that police department of bullying people," he says. "Instead of protecting and serving, [they're] now bullying and beating."
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In September, U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford issued a scathing ruling against the Fullerton Police Department for allowing Officer Albert Rincon to stay on the job even after multiple allegations that he detained women, then either made sexual propositions to them, groped them, or did both. He never called for a female officer to help do pat-downs and habitually turned off his digital audio recorder during detentions. Both moves violated city policies, but Rincon's disciplining by superiors amounted to a course on what's "practical" in pat-downs and the importance of audio recorders, court documents show.
Two women filed a federal lawsuit against the Fullerton police, and the city sought to to have Guilford dismiss the case. That move, coupled with Rincon's light punishment didn't sit well with the judge. He called the city's handling "shocking," noting that it raised questions about the department's customs and practices around sexual assault. "Requiring Rincon to attend 'pat-down' training is weak sauce that does nothing to hide the unpleasant taste of complicity," Guilford—the presiding judge in the Mike Carona federal trial—wrote. "At the end of the day, the city put Rincon back onto the streets to continue arresting women despite a pattern of sexual-harassment allegations."
He added, "A reasonable juror could conclude, based on these facts, that the city simply did not care what officers did to women during arrest" and that such a blasé attitude "suggests a tacit authorization."
The ruling came a month after Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaukas charged Ramos and Ciccinelli for their roles in Thomas' killing—the first time in Orange County history on-duty peace officers have been charged with murder. Together, the two developments put to rest claims by Fullerton police supporters that the department was clean and that protestors just didn't understand how difficult the job is.
Police work is hard and hardening, Ron Thomas admits, speaking of his days as a sheriff's deputy. "I saw every walk of life as criminals, so you trust no one," he says. "Everybody's bad, except my cop buddies."
Whitaker, like many Fullertonians, says he thinks most of the officers have good intentions, but the "bad apples" have gotten away with too much for too long.
"You're always going to have some outliers," he says. "You're going to have some people who will push the envelope a little bit. If they're dealt with properly, then you nip that in the bud and make sure we don't get to something like [Thomas' killing]."
As it stands, though, he fears the department has already lost the public's trust.
Brenda Mata says she doubts she'd call the local police if something happened to her in Fullerton. "I can't believe it's come to that," she says. "I used to always tell my kids, 'Tell the cops, 'Hi' and wave.
"After everything with my brother, I wanted to turn around and wave like this," she says, flipping her middle finger in the air.
The police department is "the tail that's wagging the dog," Matador Cantina owner Bailey says, and it'll take big steps to fix that. "They should just come out and fall on their sword and say, 'We screwed up. We see there's problems,'" he says.
Whitaker agrees, saying everything would need to be brought down to "bedrock" before they could rebuild. He has been looking into the logistics of disbanding the Fullerton Police Department and contracting out to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
But considering the sheriff's department's own abysmal record, he's hardly comforted, he says. "We could be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire."
This article appeared in print as "The Bullies In Blue: Long before Fullerton police officers beat Kelly Thomas to death, the city's cops ran roughshod over anyone and everyone."