Fullerton City Council hears hours of public comment on homeless death case

Still from a bus surveillance video showing eyewitnesses talking about the police altercation with a homeless man. The man later died.
Still from a bus surveillance video showing eyewitnesses talking about the police altercation with a homeless man. The man later died.
OCTA bus surveillance video

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The Fullerton City Council met last night to approve a contract with a special investigator who’ll look into last month’s deadly police beating of a homeless man. The auditor will also review Fullerton Police policies, including department guidelines for the use of force.

The council meeting provided a forum for residents to speak – and sometimes shout.

The City Council members met in part to seal a contract with Michael Gennaco, the watchdog for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. He’ll conduct a review of the beating and death of Kelly Thomas, the schizophrenic homeless man who died a few days after a violent run-in with Fullerton police officers in July.

Gennaco will look into the Thomas incident, and make broad recommendations about improving policy at the Fullerton Police Department. His review will happen while the FBI and the Orange County District Attorney conduct their own investigations.

But even after the Fullerton City Council moved ahead with the Gennaco appointment, the mood of the crowd at the meeting remained tense. All seats in the Fullerton City Council chambers were filled and the crowd spilled out into the hallway. Comments often turned to shouts from the audience.

A lot of anger was directed toward the Fullerton mayor and the two City Council members who have not condemned the beating. Kelly Thomas’s stepmother Dana Pave said she feels like the council is dismissing the public’s anger.

"I was wondering city council if you have children, if you have family, and what you would think if what happened to Kelly happened to one of your children?" she said. "And how you would feel if someone treated you the way that you're treating us?"

Fullerton resident Geraldo Gomez echoed the frustration of those who want the six officers involved suspended without pay during the investigation.

"I’m not happy that these gentlemen that did this horrible crime are out on paid leave and I want to know what you guys are doing," Gomez said. "No, I know, you guys are doing nothing!"

When the mayor tried to explain why the officers are on paid leave while the city investigates the beating, he was shouted down. "There seems to be a lack of information on that," Mayor Richard Jones said. A member of the audience responded, "Then fire them!"

Some of those at the meeting offered suggestions, like starting a citizens commission to help monitor the police. Others want more police training to deal with the homeless. But nearly all want the same thing: more transparency and accountability.