About 100 people gathered for a candlelight vigil at Kelly's Corner on Thursday night near the downtown Fullerton Bus Depot. The vigil marked the one year anniversary since Thomas, a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man, was brutally beaten by six Fullerton Police officers at the exact spot.
Kelly's parents Ron Thomas and Cathy Thomas, along with his stepmom Dana Pape and other family members struggled to remain composed as a moment of silence was held at 8:30 pm, the approximate time officers moved in on Thomas. About a half dozen media cameras surrounded family and supporters as they looked back on the peaceful and gentle soul they remembered Kelly to be.
"It's very emotional," Fullerton
resident and prominent Justice for Kelly Thomas supporter Christine Walker
said. "I can't believe he was just sitting at that bus stop a year ago and now he's gone. I think it's just really starting to sink in now that he's not coming back."
Over the past year, Kelly's memorial has remained remarkably intact. Family and supporters frequently bring flowers and balloons to decorate the spot where Thomas had become unconscious and died five days later at the hospital. Around the memorial, the ground is colorfully adorned with sidewalk chalk art, with inspirational phrases and messages to Kelly from mourners.
The death galvanized the Fullerton community last summer, where the city saw weekly protests in front of the Fullerton Police Department demanding justice as well as impassioned speeches by hundreds of residents at city council meetings. As a result of the protests and subsequent media coverage, the city has undergone major changes, including the recall of three city councilmembers and the retirement of then-Police Chief Michael Sellers.
"We filed [the lawsuit] because without a civil suit and a penalty then they just keep running rampant," he said. "So we have to go after them in that manner. We are suing the individual police officers and former police chiefs Pat McKinley and Michael Sellers. All of them need to be held accountable."
"We are not asking for a dollar figure," he added. "It's up to the jury to decide any dollar amount based on evidence and jury instruction."
Ron Thomas said the fight for justice and accountability is far from finished. In addition to the two officers charged by the Orange County District Attorney in September, he wants the other four officers charged by the DA. Particularly Officer Joe Wolfe, who he says from the surveillance video, appeared to deliver the first blow to his son.
Ron Thomas also agrees with the latest calls from Kelly's Army, the group of supporters for justice for Kelly Thomas, for a civilian oversight committee to handle claims of police brutality and abuse.
"I really support the idea of a civilian oversight committee," he said. "It's going to be a lengthy process but it's a matter of getting the right people in there, because anything that is supplemented by the city is just taking care of their own."
On July 11, graduate students from Cal State Fullerton Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program will have a presentation of different police oversight methods at the Fullerton Public Library where Kelly Thomas supporters are expected to be attendance.