A fired security guard at the Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen in Fullerton has filed a lawsuit accusing Lit guitarist Jeremy Popoff, an owner of the establishment, with enticing police to harass Kelly Thomas on the day officers savagely beat the homeless, schizophrenic man to death in July 2011, and then ordered staff to obstruct justice by lying about their involvement to homicide investigators.
In the 25-page lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court, Michael Reeves claims that he was first intimidated by Popoff to participate in the cover up and later fired after he cooperated in District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' probe that resulted in the arrests of two cops.
Reeves claims in the court filing that he had been expected to echo Popoff's "false mantra" that "Slidebar had nothing to do" with Thomas' gruesome demise because "as a former rock star" the Slidebar owner "was obsessed with Slidebar's image."
Prior to Thomas' death, that obsession prompted Popoff to ban all homeless persons from entering Slidebar, according to the lawsuit.
"Popoff's 'no homeless people' policy kept Thomas out of Slidebar but it did not keep Thomas out of sight, as Popoff wanted," Reeves said in the court filing. "So, in June 2011, Popoff called a meeting at Slidebar with all his managers and instructed them to call police whenever they saw Thomas around Slidebar and to do anything necessary to get Thomas away."
Reeves claims the staff initially called police to complain that Thomas, 37, was loitering. Each time, arriving officers merely told him to move. "This response did not satisfy Popoff because the police took too long to respond and Thomas would always return to the area and spoil the image Popoff had for Slidebar and himself," according to the lawsuit.
Next, Reeves claims, "Popoff told Slidebar managers to do whatever it takes to keep Thomas away."
On the evening of July 5, Reeves was on duty and saw Thomas in a nearby parking lot picking up cigarette butts. He said Jeanette DeMarco, one of Popoff's managers, came to the front door area, saw Thomas and said she was "going to take care of this." DeMarco called the Fullerton Police Department's 911 line and made "a knowingly false report" that Thomas was breaking into cars, according to the lawsuit.
Based on a disturbing video released by Rackauckas at an April preliminary hearing, we know what happened next: A group of cops hassled, chased down and unnecessarily beat the unarmed, 37-year-old homeless man into a bloody coma. When the officers finished beating a man who'd committed no crime, they stood over his dying, mutilated body and demanded that arriving paramedics treat their minor scratches first. The veteran, heavily armed cops later would claim they were entitled to use overwhelming force on the scrawny, 135-pound Thomas because they feared he might kill them with--you can't make this up--superhuman strength.
The DA decided to charge only two of the cops: Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. A judge refused their request dismiss the prosecution's case as weak. A third involved cop may eventually be charged too.
According to Reeves, Popoff, DeMarco and other Slidebar employees committed crimes by illegally conspiring to make false charges against Thomas and using a 911 call to trick police.
An Aug. 23 online article by Brandon Ferguson, the Weekly's clubs editor, reported that sources tied a Slidebar complaint to the Thomas police encounter and, if Reeves is right in his lawsuit, that story unnerved Popoff, who responded by dissuading staff from telling the truth to investigators.
Popoff has not yet filed a formal response to the June 8 lawsuit. But in prior communications with the Weekly, he adamantly denied that anyone at Slidebar, including himself, had ever called police to complain about Thomas.
It appears that assertion might now be tested in court.
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Reeves' lawsuit has been assigned to Superior Court Judge Tam Nomoto Schumann.