The shocking video footage of six Fullerton cops cursing, threatening, and then beating the living crap out of mentally ill homeless person Kelly Thomas was finally released yesterday, some ten months after Thomas died from his July 5, 2011 injuries. The brutal killing is rightly being greeted with outrage. Sadly, however, what makes it a uniquely chilling case isn't the actions of the officers involved, but rather the fact that they were caught on film, and that the camera also captured the heartbreaking audio of Thomas repeatedly apologizing to the officers who were torturing him, pleading for mercy as they beat him into the coma from which he never woke up.
But perhaps the most shocking aspect of the Thomas killing is the fact that the cops obviously assumed that there would be no consequences for their actions. In fact, they had every right to expect that, because until now, not a single cop in Orange County history has ever been prosecuted for killing someone in the line of duty. What follows are five particularly memorable examples of OC cops killing people--actually four successful killings and one attempted one--and then getting away with it.
1. Antonio Saldivar
On May 5, 2001, Huntington Beach Police Officer Mark Wersching was chasing a gang suspect in the city's Oak View neighborhood when he shot 16-year-old Saldivar in the back, killing him instantly. At first, police announced that Saldivar was the suspect, and that Wersching had shot him in self-defense after Saldivar pointed a rifle at him. But days later, the cops changed their story: Saldivar was an innocent bystander and the "rifle" was actually a toy cork gun, which Wersching improbably tried to claim that Saldivar had pointed at him. By the time of the shooting, Wersching had already been disciplined repeatedly (although never arrested, of course), for crashing his car while driving drunk on the beach, thus injuring a passenger, stealing fireworks from the fire department, and getting in drunken fights on Main Street while off duty. The city paid $2.1 million to Saldivar's family. No charges filed.
2. Elmer Bustos
Police claim that Bustos was a gang member who shot at cops chasing him on Jan. 27. Friends and other witnesses say Bustos wasn't carrying a gun, but was walking down the street with his girlfriend a block from Willard Elementary School when he ran from cops, and they shot him in the back. No charges filed.
3. Jeffrey Santelli*
Anaheim gang unit cop Scott McManus was looking for a suspect in the Crystal Cathedral parking lot on Feb. 20, 2003 when he began yelling at Santelli. Problem is, Santelli wasn't the guy McManus was looking for, he was just some guy trying to give a credit card to his mom, who worked at the church. Because Santelli didn't know McManus, who wasn't in uniform, was a cop, he didn't comply with whatever orders were being shouted at him and McManus shot him in the stomach. McManus already had several brutality complaints on his record and his violent behavior didn't end here. Fortunately, Santelli survived. (*Attempted killing). No charges filed.
4. Tuan Thanh Tang
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This unlucky guy's family called paramedics on Oct. 10, 1999, saying he needed medical assistance. Because drug use was suspected, police showed up and hogtied the poor fellow, who died on the way to the hospital. All in a day's work. No charges filed.
5. Ashley MacDonald
On Aug. 25, 2006, the distraught 18-year-old, who may have been sexually assaulted the previous night, got into an argument with her mom. Using a small pen-knife, she stabbed her in the arm and ran into a park, where she began to threaten to kill herself with the knife. Police arrived, and when she didn't drop the blade on their command, they emptied 18 bullets into MacDonald. No charges filed.