Report: 'No cover up or corruption' in Kelly Thomas death, but 'complacency' in Fullerton PD

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The Office of Independent Review (OIR) has concluded that no cover-up took place in the way the Fullerton Police Department handled the death of Kelly Thomas, but admonished the department for what it called "past complacency in discipline."

“I saw no evidence that people who committed crimes were allowed to get away with crimes," said Michael Gennaco, president of the L.A. Office of Independent Review. "I found evidence of a culture of complacency where people who should have been disciplined or held accountable were not sufficiently held accountable or disciplined. That’s what I’m talking about: a culture of complacency.”

Thomas, a mentally-ill homeless man, was badly beaten by members of the Fullerton police department last year. He died from his wounds five days later.

Gennaco presented this, his third report, to the Fullerton City Council Tuesday night. City Council members grilled Gennaco for more than an hour. During a break, he bottom-lined to reporters the report's findings.

"Did [Thomas] behave the way you’d want a model citizen to behave? Maybe not. But he’s a mentally ill homeless individual. Police officers should expect in certain cases that everyone’s not going to love having to deal with police officers and should learn how to deal with those kinds of cases in a way that’s professional and doesn’t necessarily need to resort to force," said Gennaco.

The state review also "found no evidence" that the final three officers involved in Thomas' beating should be terminated, saying that the trio arrived at the scene only in response to a backup call from other officers.

"When they arrived they helped restrain Mr. Thomas, who was already on the ground," said a press release from the City of Fullerton. "But none of the officers had any involvement in the use of force, nor was any force used after their arrival."

The first three officers — Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos and Joe Wolfe — were terminated from the department for their involvement. Ramos and Cicinelli both face charges over the beating, including second-degree murder and excessive force.

The report lays much of the blame at the feet of the initial officers on the scene, saying Ramos and Cicinelli "found a way to transform a casual encounter into an incident resulting in death."

"Every patrol officer in America should know that there is a correlation between being homeless and mentally ill," said the OIR's report. "Yet in this case, the attitude adopted by the primary officer was one of disdain and impatience."

Though the report says most criticism of the department is "well-deserved," it did acknowledge that the Fullerton PD of 2011 is "not the FPD of more than a year later."

"Changed leadership, introspection and reform have placed the department in an upward trajectory," said the report.

OIR president Gennaco presented 59 recommendations for the department to the City Council, including homeless outreach, more training for officers on how to deal with the homeless and additional training in when and how to use force.

Gennaco said Fullerton authorities have stepped up training and have put in place some policy changes since last summer — but he says they need to do more.

He also suggested that citizens of Fullerton get in on the act, offering "various forms of citizen oversight" the department could use.

These will be considered at the next City Council meeting.

Kelly Thomas’s father Ron Thomas says the Gennaco report is a positive step in the right direction.

A copy of the full report can be seen below.

Gennaco Final Report 8-21-2012

This story has been updated.

With contributions from Ed Joyce

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