Crime & Justice

Ron Thomas accepts $4.9 million to settle civil case with Fullerton for son's beating

File: Defense attorney John D. Barnett, who is representing Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos in the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man, shows video footage from a surveillance camera that captured the incident.
File: Defense attorney John D. Barnett, who is representing Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos in the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man, shows video footage from a surveillance camera that captured the incident.
Joshua Sudock/Orange County Register, Pool Photo

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Ron Thomas, whose son died after an altercation with Fullerton police, settled his wrongful death suit for $4.9 million, his lawyer confirmed Monday.

Lawyers were scheduled to begin open statements in the civil suit Monday morning, but were delayed as the Fullerton City Council held a special closed session meeting to discuss the lawsuit. About an hour later, officials confirmed city leaders had signed off on the deal. None of the officers will be held financially responsible, rather two city insurers will pay the entire settlement.

"It buys everyone peace. It buys everyone some certainty and everyone can move on and try to continue the healing process," said attorney Dana Fox representing the city of Fullerton and two police officers currently on the force.

Ron Thomas filed his wrongful death lawsuit a year after his son 37-year-old son Kelly Thomas, a homeless man living with schizophrenia was beaten by a group of Fullerton police officers in July 2011 during an arrest. Officers were responding to a call about Thomas casing cars.

In a video, one of the officers is heard threatening to "f--- you up." The shirtless and unarmed 37-year-old man tried to walk away and officers pulled out their batons, beating him.

Kelly Thomas can be heard on tape saying he can't breathe as the officers held him down, begging for help and calling out "dad". When paramedics arrived, he was laying in a pool of blood. He died five days later.

Former Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were charged criminally with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force but were acquitted last year. Similar charges were dropped against former officer Joseph Wolfe.

Former Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos, Jay Cicinelli and Josephe Wolfe were all in court Monday to agree to the settlement terms. Cicinelli told reporters he couldn't comment because he was still fighting the city to get his law enforcement job back.

The settlement doesn't require the defendants to admit fault or liability.

Ron Thomas and his attorneys left court Monday without giving statements. They said they would hold a news conference Monday afternoon in Los Angeles.

"I would have liked to hear the testimony of the defendants," said Orange County Superior Court Judge Kirk Nakamura, who presided over the case.

He said both sides had much to gain and lose had the trial taken place including hearing from the officers involved.

Nakamura said but he added that there were compelling reasons for putting an end to nearly four years of litigation.

"Settlements allow for each party to have some control," he said.

Kelly Thomas's mother accepted a $1 million settlement in 2012. 

But Ron Thomas had held tightly to the pursuit of a civil trial - and had insisted the officers be fired and prosecuted. He sued the city of Fullerton, former police chiefs and five officers. 

When explaining the case to prospective jurors, attorneys for Thomas father said officers were at fault because no force was needed while attorneys representing the city and the officers involved said Kelly Thomas died from a heart attack. 

Cicinelli and Ramos were expected to testify in the civil case.