The father of Kelly Thomas said he plans to attend a peaceful protest in Hollywood Saturday at 4 p.m. The event is billed as a "call for justice" for Thomas, who died in July 2011 after an altercation with Fullerton police officers.
Kelly Thomas was a homeless, mentally ill man. He died in July 2011, several days after he was involved in an altercation with six Fullerton police officers. Two of the officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, were found not guilty by a jury on January 14, 2014, on charges of second degree murder, manslaughter and use of excessive force.
The rally at Hollywood and Vine was organized by Monday Night Mission founder Mel Tillekeratne. The mission feeds about 200 to 400 people weeknights on L.A.'s Skid Row.
"Kelly Thomas is exactly the kind of person we feed and help every night," said Tillekeratne. "Every night in our line, there's at least 50 'Kelly Thomases.' So when Kelly Thomas got hurt, it hit close to home because there are so many people in our line that just remind us of Kelly. What happened to Kelly was wrong. That's why we are taking this up as a rally and a protest for justice."
Tillekeratne said as the area around Skid Row gets smaller with gentrification, he sees clashes between "the haves and have nots" in downtown L.A.
"When that happens people call the police and the police respond, but the amount of training that police have to deal with a mentally ill person is a lot less than what's needed," he said.
Following the beating of Kelly Thomas, all Fullerton police department employees were trained in working with mentally ill and homeless people. Three of the officers involved in the altercation — Ramos, Cicinelli and Joe Wolfe — were fired.
Tweets and Facebook posts from people linked with the groups 'Occupy' and 'Anonymous' have been promoting the protest.
"Anonymous and Occupy both found out and notified us that they are showing up in support of Kelly Thomas," said Tillekeratne, who added he has had no "direct contact" with anyone from either group.
The father of Kelly Thomas, Ron Thomas, welcomed the support of his efforts to get 'justice' for his son.
"It's all about keeping everybody aware and let them know it was a very unjust verdict that came down," said Thomas. "People are not happy at all with what happened here, it was so blatant and they want to continue to express themselves."
Thomas said he has "no other affiliation with these groups (Occupy and Anonymous) other than they've been very supportive of trying to get justice for Kelly."
He said Anonymous has supported his efforts from the beginning.
"As far as Kelly goes, they've [Anonymous] been very, very supportive and helpful to the cause. They go out there and they protest, they don't cause any trouble, they're just out their protesting and getting the word out, so I appreciate that part from them very much," said Thomas.
But recently, some of the planned peaceful protests have gotten rowdy. On Saturday, January 18 — five days after former Fullerton officers Ramos and Cicinelli were found not guilty — 13 protesters were arrested in Fullerton. One person was charged with assault and others were charged with vandalism and failure to follow a police order to disperse. Ron Thomas said at the time: “There are some radical groups out here, I would say opportunistic. It’s not indicative of who Kelly’s Army is, or what we’re trying to get across.”
No one has identified those arrested as members of any particular group.
"Everything is advertised as justice for Kelly and a march for him," Thomas said. "It's about getting justice for Kelly and all the other victims out there."
He said he plans to be at the Saturday protest in Los Angeles.
"Los Angeles has been extremely supportive. It's not just a local problem, what happened to Kelly, it's a national problem, it's [excessive force by police] done everywhere," said Thomas. "The homeless on Skid Row in L.A held a candlelight vigil for Kelly in 2013. People from L.A. have always come down [to Orange County] to protest. It's just this is an organized, bigger march than what we have seen."
Organizer Tillekeratne said the rally will end with a candlelight vigil.
Civil suit hearing February 27
Meantime, Thomas said a hearing is scheduled for February 27 on his civil lawsuit, filed on behalf of his son, Kelly. The civil lawsuit was filed on July 5, 2012, in Santa Ana Superior Court. The suit names the city of Fullerton, two former Fullerton police chiefs, Patrick McKinley and Michael Sellers, and the six officers involved in the incident as defendants.
"My neighbors, friends, are still in disbelief," said Thomas. "We couldn't even get excessive force. One of the things that has happened to me personally since the verdict, even though it wasn't the verdict I wanted, it was actually a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders because the trial was over. And as soon as that happened, it was actually relief."