After death of schizophrenic homeless man, Fullerton recall sweeps out 3 from city council

A memorial for Kelly Thomas, the 37-year-old homeless man who died in July after he was beaten by Fullerton police.
A memorial for Kelly Thomas, the 37-year-old homeless man who died in July after he was beaten by Fullerton police. via Justice for Kelly Thomas/Facebook

On most days, the mild heart attack suffered yesterday by Tom Lasorda, Fullerton’s most famous resident, would be the big news in town. But not on a day when simmering anger that got hotter after last July’s police beating and subsequent death of schizophrenic homeless man in Fullerton boiled over at the ballot box.

Voters recalled three of Fullerton’s five city council members Tuesday, all by two-to-one margins.

Out are council members Don Bankhead, F. Richard Jones and Pat McKinley. Bankhead and McKinley had two years left on their terms. Jones’s term was due to end in November.

Now in are businessman Greg Sebourn, Fullerton planning commissioner Travis Kiger and attorney and former Fullerton planning commissioner Doug Chaffee.

Sebourn and Kiger had support from businessman and blogger Tony Bushala, who put $235,000 toward the recall, and from Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby.

Chaffee had the backing of Fullerton council member and mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva and two former council members. In 2010, he lost a close race for city council to McKinley, the man he’ll now replace.

Recall candidates were annoyed over a city water tax and pensions for municipal employees. But it was the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas that spurred the recall movement forward.

Audio recordings of Thomas screaming for his father shocked many in Fullerton, as did a photo of the 37-year-old man's bloodied, swollen face taken by his father Ron Thomas days before he died.

In the days immediately after Thomas' death, Bankhead, Jones and McKinley held back criticism of the Fullerton police and the department's chief, saying they didn't want to compromise the investigation into the incident.

Soon after, the recall began.

Kelly Thomas' father Ron Thomas said Tuesday that he was pleased with the recall results, but he also sent a warning to the new council majority.

"This doesn't change my position at all. I wanted them (Bankhead, Jones and McKinley) out, but my position is justice for Kelly," said Thomas.

"And the three that are going to take their place, they're going to have to answer my questions now."

Thomas said those questions include why one of the Fullerton police officers charged in his son's death was hired at all.

Officer Manuel Ramos is on trial for second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Corporal Jay Ciccinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.

The city council upheaval isn’t over in Fullerton.

Kiger’s term ends in December. To stay on the council, he’ll have to run again in November.

Council member Sharon Quirk-Silva, who’s serving as mayor this year, earned a spot yesterday in a November runoff against Norby for his Assembly seat. That leaves her council job open.

With two spots open, it’s possible that any of the three recalled council members could run again in November and end up back in city hall.

It’s happened before: Don Bankhead – who was recalled yesterday – also was recalled in 1994. Later that same year, he ran again for the Fullerton City Council – and won.

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