Patt Morrison

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Fullerton police to possibly undergo independent investigation into homeless man's death

by Patt Morrison and Lily Mihalik | Patt Morrison

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Ron Thomas, the father of victim, Kelly Thomas, stands next to a memorial for his son on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, at the Fullerton Transportation Center in Fullerton, Calif. The parents of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man have demanded the release of a 911 tape and possible surveillance video from a California city, hoping the material will shed more light on what led to a physical altercation last month between police officers and their son, who later died. AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

A new investigation into the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who was beaten by Fullerton police and later died, is being proposed. The Orange County district attorney announced Monday that there's no sign officers intended to kill Kelly, but his father is calling for a broad look into the conduct, hiring practices, and training at the city's police department.

Fullerton's city manager has proposed bringing in Michael Gennaco of the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review to help investigate the case. Thomas' father says he's also looking into the abuse records of individual officers involved in the his son's case.

The six officers involved in the case are already on administrative leave.

Speaking with KPCC's Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton said the Fullerton Police Department has been less than forthcoming, a clear signal, he said, that an independent investigation of both the incident and the Fullerton Police Department is needed.

The FBI is currently looking into the case for civil rights abuses, but Gennaco said his investigation would be larger in scope. "I'll look at the department through this incident, and that will almost undoubtedly get you to broader areas such as training, supervision, hiring practices, and background investigations," said Gennaco.

His investigation is expected to begin as soon as he has approval from the Fullerton City Council.

Ron Thomas, the father of the man who died said he supports Gennaco's inquiry and that what he's most hoping for is that the investigation will expose patterns of abuse from individual officers. "Did the police department know about this and were [abusive officers] internally disciplined? And why are they still employed?" he said.

When asked if he'd like the video of his son's beating to be made public, Thomas was torn.

"The last words are him begging for me to save him, then to watch a video of him being beaten, I can't do that, I'm not going to do that."

Despite his reservations, Thomas does want the video to go public eventually. "People need to know what's on that, they need to know the absolute truth," he said.

An earlier version of this story previously stated that Michael Gennaco had said the Fullerton Police Department was less than forthcoming about information regarding the investigation. Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton made that comment. The story also originally implied that Gennaco has been formally asked to take on the job.


Michael Gennaco, chief attorney, L.A. County Office of Independent Review

Richard Winton, crime reporter, Los Angeles Times

Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas’ father

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