Dan Hughes, Fullerton's acting chief of police, delivered a statement last night to the city council, effectively clearing mentally ill homeless Kelly Thomas of wrongdoing before cops beat him to death on July 5, 2011.
“There is no evidence, of which the Fullerton Police Department is now aware that Kelly Thomas actually tried to steal anything from any of the vehicles in the lot,” Hughes told the council.
Hughes' statement referred to the night when police responded to the Fullerton Transportation Center after Jeannette DeMarco, a Slidebar manager reported a man looking into cars and lifting door handles.
A day after the beating, spokesman Sgt. Andrew Goodrich, possibly unfamiliar with the phrase “tentative information,” told the Orange County Register that Kelly was suspected of attempting to burglarize cars.
The department's mea culpa, which was pre-approved by Kelly's father Ron Thomas, comes one year, two months and 13 days after a deeply disturbing incident that led to significant restructuring in Fullerton–including a recall election that ousted three council members with ties to police unions.
Though the statement is welcomed, it's long overdue.
The groundswell of public outrage that arose in the wake of Kelly's death was spurred on by official indifference. Paternalistic city employees, acting on the advice of attorneys, remained silent in the face of public demand for answers. The stonewalling of politicians like Dick Jones and ex-police chief Patrick McKinley created an information vacuum soon filled by local blogger Tony Bushala who relentlessly exposed a city government, that if given the chance, would have seen the Thomas affair just go away.
It still hasn't.
In all fairness, Captain Hughes has made some positive steps since taking over from his predecessor, including admitting department mistakes in a sympathetic news outlet (the Reg) the handling of the Thomas investigation. During a press tour of the Fullerton Police station (to which the Weekly wasn't invited), he told the Fullerton Observer, “There's not a lot in policing that I believe should be secret. We work for the community.”
But when it takes so long to clear an obviously innocent suspect, the delay raises concerns about what else is still being hidden by police.