Father sues California city over homeless son's death after clash with police

The father of a mentally ill homeless man sued the Southern California city of Fullerton on Thursday alleging that a brutal beating by police officers a year ago led to his son's wrongful death.

In a civil suit filed in Orange County, Ron Thomas claimed that a violent confrontation with officers who restrained, struck and shocked Kelly Thomas with a Taser killed the 37-year-old man.

Thomas also alleged that the city previously ignored citizens' complaints and failed to discipline officers accused of wrongdoing, creating a "culture of corruption and deliberate indifference."

"There's an atmosphere around Fullerton with the police department that they can get away with anything they want," Thomas told reporters at a press conference in Los Angeles shortly after the suit was filed.

The city's police department declined to comment on the suit — which names the city, two former police chiefs and six officers — noting officials have not yet had a chance to review it.

The suit was filed on the anniversary of the confrontation between a shirtless, long-haired Thomas and police that was captured on videotape and digital audio recording devices worn by some of the officers — footage that sparked outrage among many residents of the Orange County city.

Officers detained Thomas on July 5, 2011, while investigating a report of car break-ins at a city transit hub, and what started out as a conversation escalated into a physical conflict. Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia, died five days later.

His death stoked an outcry by residents, the recall of three councilmembers, an FBI investigation and criminal charges against two of the six officers involved.

It also raised concerns among residents about the police department's preparation to interact with the mentally ill.

Garo Mardirossian, Ron Thomas' attorney, said the officers who stopped Kelly Thomas escalated the conflict instead of talking it out in a clear sign they were not properly trained.

"The fact that he was homeless, the fact that he was mentally ill, did not reduce his rights," Mardirossian said. "These police officers owed him an obligation to protect and to serve him, not to beat him to death."

Thomas' mother Cathy previously reached a $1 million settlement with the city and agreed not to pursue any further claims. The deal did not involve her ex-husband, Ron Thomas, whose suit seeks unspecified damages.


Taxin reported from Santa Ana, Calif.