UPDATE, JULY 18, 7:12 P.M.: The Fullertonian's Alex Stouffer was at this afternoon's Fullerton Police Department protest with camera in hand, and some of the resulting shots have been graciously shared with the Weekly.
Among those who turn up in Stouffer's lens is Ron Thomas, the father of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, who was taken off life support by his family after he'd been knocked into permanent unconsciousness and brain damage by a half dozen Fullerton cop earlier this month.
Expect to see some or all of these demonstrators at Tuesday night's Fullerton City Council meeting.
UPDATE, JULY 18, 5:34 P.M.: About 20 demonstrators–some toting signs that read, “Who will police the police?”; “The police are not above the law”; and “Cold-blooded murder”–have been protesting for the past two hours in front of the Fullerton Police Department.
The group demands answers into the death of a homeless man and downtown fixture, Kelly Thomas. The 37-year-old died after taking a beating from a half dozen police officers who'd been called the evening of July 5 about car burglaries near the downtown bus depot.
The Orange County District Attorney's office is now investigating the officer-involved killing, but several Fullerton observers are ready to draw conclusions now, which explains their demonstration on the northwest corner of Commonwealth and Highland, in front of the police station.
Ron Thomas, the father of the dead man and a retired Orange County sheriff's deputy, has been highly critical of the police beating, and he joined the protest, although he said he had nothing to do with organizing it.
Thomas tells the Weekly he hopes the protest shows the local media and the Fullerton City Council that “the people”
are hungry for answers.
“This thing needs to go national,” he said.
City Council meeting, even though there is nothing on the agenda about the police beating. Thomas vowed, “There will be a lot of people there
tomorrow” to address his son's death.
Cal State Fullerton track and field athlete. “We want cats and dogs to show up.”
Also spotted in the crowd today was Tony Bushala, editor of the Friends for Fullerton's Future blog, which OC Weekly named the Best Blog of 2010.
(And . . . viola! Here is Friends' protest post.)
UPDATE, JULY 11, 1:48 P.M.: Now that Kelly Thomas has died, his death will be investigated as an officer-involved killing.
Such cases are routinely investigated by the Orange County district attorney's office.
Meanwhile, a group of concerned Fullerton citizens are organizing a vigil for the 37-year-old homeless man. Stay tuned.
UPDATE, JULY 11, 1:05 P.M.: 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, who was beaten into unconsciousness by half a dozen Fullerton police officers, was taken off life support Sunday.
The homeless man's family made the gut-wrenching decision before Thomas' life was ended around noon at UCI Medical Center in Orange.
The family of the son of former Orange County sheriff's deputy Ron Thomas blames Kelly's death on excessive force by cops arresting him.
ORIGINAL POST, JULY 7, 12:09 P.M.: This post from earlier this morning includes a reference to the beating of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas by half a dozen Fullerton police officers.
While his son is on life support at UCI Medical Center in Orange, former Orange County sheriff's deputy Ron Thomas claims officers used excessive force while arresting the homeless man.
"They've killed my son. They've killed him. No weapons,” he reportedly said.
In an interview with KABC/Channel 7's Eyewitness News, Thomas admits his son was a transient with a history of mental illness. Kelly Thomas pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon more than 16 years ago. But Ron Thomas maintains his son was not a violent man, a point Fullerton police concedes.
It's also a contention of some who knew of Kelly Thomas in downtown Fullerton. One observer tells the Weekly, "This guy was a downtown bum, absolutely, but I never saw him threatening anyone or anything. He didn't talk to himself, didn't scream in the middle of the streets. Never asked for change. Basically kept to himself.”
While that downtown denizen did not witness the police beating, he's heard from those who did that the unarmed Thomas was Tasered three times. Police have not confirmed a Taser gun was used, citing the ongoing investigation.
Officers swarmed on the Fullerton bus depot area in the 100 block of South Pomona Avenue around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. They believed they had found a suspect who'd been burglarizing cars in the area.
While searching Thomas' 5-foot-10, 165-pound body, the suspect became combative, according to police. The fracas continued until Thomas lost consciousness. At least two witnesses are reported to have screamed at the cops to stop beating him.
Thomas suffered major head and neck injuries. Ron Thomas claims there were no drugs in his son's system. His family is now faced with the horrible decision of whether to pull him off life support.
"There's definite brain damage at this point already,” Ron Thomas reportedly told KABC. "It's horrific. I've never–in my Army career, in my law-enforcement career–I have never seen a person look so bad.”
He said his son's face is unrecognizable.
"He was slammed extremely hard, however it happened, and that's the only injuries on him to cause him near death,” Ron Thomas is reported to have said.
Sergeant Andrew Goodrich, the Fullteron police spokesman, says two officers were treated at a hospital for broken bones as a result of the incident.
Goodrich promised "a thorough investigation,” and that if excessive force was used, "that will come out in that investigation.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before "graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.